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How Texas Supreme Court Justices Raised $11 Million

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II. Introduction

“The law commands allegiance only if it commands respect. It commands respect only if the public thinks the judges are neutral.”
– U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, commenting on a 1999 Texas Supreme Court poll that found that 83 percent of Texans say that state judges are influenced by campaign donations.
Justice is in crisis in Texas. The nine sitting Texas Supreme Court justices are awash in special-interest campaign money—much of it provided by the very business interests and people whom they judge.

The Texas Constitution has required voters to select state judges since 1876. But it is only in recent decades that these judicial races have become the targets of massive expenditures of special-interest money. The average Texas Supreme Court seat now costs $1.4 million. It is all but impossible for a judicial candidate to serve on that court without making an unholy alliance with wealthy people who have special interests in the outcome of court decisions.

Once dominated by Democrats whose campaigns were bankrolled by the plaintiffs’ bar, every Texas Supreme Court justice is now a Republican whose ultimate allegiance is to the business interests that finance their campaign. Repeated studies in recent years have found that Texas Supreme Court opinions overwhelmingly favor the interests of the justices’ campaign donors. This unseemliness has not been lost on the public.

Polls sponsored by the Supreme Court and State Bar found in 1999 that 83 percent of Texans say state judges are influenced by campaign contributions. These polls also found that 48 percent of state judges and 79 percent of Texas attorneys say campaign contributions have “a significant influence” on judicial decisions. In fact, just 14 percent of the judges and only 1 percent of the attorneys say campaign money has no influence on judicial opinions.

The first in a series of three reports on the Texas Supreme Court, this study analyzes where each of the current justices got the money that they used to win their most recent election.

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