Editorial: Cash clouds image of judges

Posted: August 19, 2010

When it comes to spending money to elect state Supreme Court justices, Pennsylvania is No. 1.

Unfortunately, this is not a top ranking to boast about. That's because the river of money that flows into judicial elections creates the perception for many that justice isn't always blind. Much of the money judicial candidates raise comes from lawyers and special-interest groups that may appear later before the court.

"Three out of every four Americans believe campaign contributions affect courtroom decisions," former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said in a statement accompanying a study released this week.

The study, by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University and two other public-interest groups that track money in politics, found that more than $10 million was spent on Pennsylvania Supreme Court campaigns in 2007-08. That's more than any other state during that time.

The money raised by candidates for the high court more than doubled the previous state spending record of $4.1 million. Joan Orie Melvin, a Pittsburgh Republican, won the seat.

Pennsylvania is one of 22 states where candidates for Supreme Court compete in elections. Judges are appointed in New Jersey and Delaware.

Efforts to replace judicial elections in Pennsylvania with appointed judges have failed in part because that system isn't entirely free of politics. But clearly the surge of money pouring into judicial elections is not good when it comes to ensuring a fair and level playing field.

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