Judicial Elections Aren't Publicly Funded Anymore...and That's a Problem
After nearly a decade of NC judicial elections being publicly funded, Gov. McCrory and the state legislature decided to cut the program in 2013. This is a problem because with business interests funding judicial campaigns, it is more likely judges will vote in favor of the businesses and other interest groups that funded their campaigns. Both Bob Hunter and Abe Jones, who are running against each other for a seat on the NC Court of Appeals agree that these campaigns should be publicly funded in order to lessen judicial bias and maintain the integrity of the NC court system.
A growing body of research has documented the negative effects all of this campaign spending can have on court decisions after Election Day. The “soft on crime” ads run against Justice Hudson are particularly troubling. A 2015 study found that the more TV ads aired during state supreme court elections, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants.
Several studies have also shown that the more campaign contributions from business interests justices receive, the more likely they are to vote for business litigants appearing before them in court.
This is not how our judiciary was designed to work. Judges should rule based on the law, Constitution and the facts in the case, not to appease the special interests funding their campaigns or to deter the special interests that may otherwise fund nasty attack ads against them. If our state is going to continue electing judges, we need strong protections, like our successful public financing program, against judicial bias.
This year’s elections have not yet experienced quite the level of special interest spending we saw in 2014. But “yet” may be the operative word there. During the primaries the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce spent $450,000 on an ad supporting Supreme Court Justice Bob Edmunds. With less than four weeks until Election Day the Chamber may soon try to tilt the scales in favor of Edmunds again. North Carolinians will be left to wonder whether our courts are for sale. Judges understand how damaging the public’s lack of confidence in the integrity of their decisions can be, which is why Hunter and Jones are right to call for publicly financed campaigns.