A study titled “Does Public Financing Affect Judicial Behavior?…” was recently published by three political scientists who looked at North Carolina’s Supreme Court. From 2001 until 2013 (for eleven years) North Carolina had an optional public financing system, making it the perfect case study. The conclusion of the study? Yes. Public financing made justices on our Supreme Court more moderate and impartial= better. Specifically, the study showed that justices who opted-in to public financing for their campaigns were 60% less likely to vote in favor of donors who contributed to their campaigns than before they opted-in. That’s a notable change.
The foundation of our judicial system is impartiality and a fair day in court; and according to this recent study, when private donors fund judicial campaigns it threatens that impartiality and fairness. In 2009 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Caperton v. Massey Coal Co. Inc., saying that an appellate judge in West Virginia who had recently accepted $3 million from the Massey Coal’s chairman and principal officer in his reelection campaign should have declined to participate in ruling on whether Massey should have to pay a $50 million jury verdict in a lawsuit for fraud. Surprisingly, this was a 5-4 decision. It seems pretty obvious to me that the West Virginia judge’s participation in Massey’s fate was questionable, whether or not he was fair, the appearance of his impartiality is what mattered.
Obviously, from this study it appears that public financing is the better method of judicial elections. Further studies need to be done to confirm the outcome and if this trend is accurate and continues, the legislature should change the election process.