Judicial Impartiality, Campaign Contributions, and Recusals: Results from a National Survey
51 Pages Posted: 17 Jul 2010
Date Written: July 16, 2010
Legal scholars and political scientists have of late become quite concerned about how citizens form their impressions of the fairness of courts. This concern reflects the changing environments of courts, especially state courts, and what might generally be termed the politicization of the judiciary.
The purpose of this paper is therefore to assess the degree to which a key element of this politicization – the provision of campaign contributions and support to those seeking judicial office – influences citizens’ perceptions of the fairness and impartiality of the judiciary. We also investigate the ability of judicial recusal to rehabilitate a court/judge tainted by perceived conflicts of interest associated with campaign contributions from litigants. Based on an experimental design embedded in a nationally representative sample, our data confirm that contributions undermine perceptions of fairness, but so too does independent support of the candidate. Recusal does indeed restore some of the perceived fairness of the court, but not to the level it enjoys when no conflicts of interest are present. In a post-Citizens United world, these findings point to significant threats to the legitimacy of elected state courts.
Keywords: Judicial legitimacy, perceptions of impartiality, judicial campaigning, recusal, judicial election
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