The Brennan Center calls for reform to state supreme courts, where high-cost elections have become the norm.
The report, “Choosing State Judges: A Plan for Reform,” urges states to abolish elections for state supreme court justices and instead adopt a transparent, publicly accountable appointment process for their highest courts. It also calls for the adoption of a lengthy single term for state supreme court justices, along with other reforms designed to rein in the role of money and politics in state courts.The Brennan Center’s research has shown, million-dollar campaigns for state supreme court seats are fast becoming the national norm. Dark, untraceable funds are flooding judicial races, and national political groups and business interests regularly pour money into these campaigns.The Brennan Center research also shows that one-third of all elected state justices have been through at least one million-dollar race, and 90 percent of voters believe campaign cash affects judicial decision making.
The Brennan Center’s policy report makes the following recommendations:
- The 38 states that have elections or retention elections for state supreme court justices should eliminate them.
- States should adopt a publicly accountable appointment process where an independent, bipartisan commission vets candidates and creates a shortlist for appointment by the governor.
- Those commissions should have transparent procedures and clear criteria for vetting candidates, and their membership should be bipartisan, appointed by diverse stakeholders, and include non-lawyers.
- State justices should serve for a single, lengthy term rather than face elections or a political reappointment process to retain their seats.
The report also lays out suggestions for how states that use elections can mitigate the influence of big-money politics, such as adopting a more accountable process for interim appointments, strengthening recusal rules, and adopting public financing for judicial races, among other key reforms.