Is "Justice for Sale?"
American Radioworks and Marketplace Highlight
a Dramatic Shift in the Judiciary
The Two-Part Public Radio Series Will Air on January 17 During
Marketplace Morning Report and Marketplace
WHAT: Judges are supposed to make decisions based on a dispassionate reading of the law. Politics has no place in a courtroomóat least in theory. But judges are elected to the bench in 38 states, and these campaigns are increasingly expensive, viciousóand partisan. The cost of November’s judicial elections will likely top the record $45 million spent in 2000 (although the final tally isn’t in yet). The campaign money largely came from business interests and their trial lawyer and union opponents.
Long-time court-watchers are worried that the combination of special interest cash and bitter partisanship will corrupt the independence of the courts. ì2004 was the tipping point year and now no state that elects judges is safe from a rising tide of special interest pressure on their court elections,î says Burt Brandenberg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan group based in Washington D.C.
Deborah Goldberg of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University fears that the more a judicial seat looks like any other political prize the more it will give the average citizen the sense that "justice is for sale."
MARKETPLACE MORNING REPORT: Investigative reporter William Kistner documents that in many states across the country this year, judicial races are on track to be the most expensive in history. Much of the money came from special interest groups that funded negative television ads. The campaign money spigot is open.
MARKETPLACE PM: Kistner also followed one highly contested judicial race in West Virginia. That fight for a Supreme Court seat pitted a business-backed corporate lawyer, Brent Benjamin, against a labor-backed incumbent judge, Warren McGraw. About $5 million was spent on the race, an unheard of sum in the mostly rural mountain state. Much of the money came from Don Blankenship, a Benjamin-backer and chief executive officer of Massey Energy Company, which has extensive coal operations in West Virginia. The company happened to be fighting off a major lawsuit headed to the West Virginia Supreme Court. Benjamin won. And Blankenship defends his role in making the courts more business friendly.
Some states are trying to limit the influence of politics and money on the courts. For instance, North Carolina became the first state to elect a Supreme Court judge using a comprehensive public financing system for judicial elections.
William Kistner is a reporter and producer based in Washington and an associate of the Center for Investigative Reporting. He has contributed to PBS’ FRONTLINE, the Discovery Channel, and CBS’ 60 Minutes, and has written stories for national magazines and major newspapers. He has been a staff producer with ABC News Day One in Washington, a staff reporter with the Center for Investigative Reporting and he as served as a writer and news editor with Professional Pilot magazine in Washington.
TUNE IN: ìJustice for Saleî will air January 17 on public radio stations nationwide during Marketplace and Marketplace Morning Report. Check local radio listings for the times and stations in your area or go to www.marketplace.org/about/stations.
ONLINE: Audio and transcripts of the radio project will be available Jan.17 at americanradioworks.org.
WHO: "Justice for Sale" is a joint production of Marketplace and American RadioWorks. Marketplace and its sister program, Marketplace Morning Report , are daily national business programs produced by American Public Media in Los Angeles. American RadioWorks is the documentary unit of American Public Media in St. Paul, Minn.