How Sandra Day O'Connor got drawn into the gay-marriage debate in Iowa.

The law, lawyers, and the court.
Sept. 13 2010 6:37 PM

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How Sandra Day O'Connor got drawn into the gay-marriage debate in Iowa.

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Last month the Brennan Center for Justice released a report on judicial campaign spending, for which O'Connor wrote the foreword. The report found, among other things, that:

* Between 2000 and 2009, campaign spending for state supreme court seats jumped to $206.9 million, compared with $83.3 million a decade earlier.

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* The candidate who raised the most money won 11 of 17 contested races in 2007–8.

* Twenty of the 22 states with Supreme Court contests had their costliest-ever campaigns between 2000 and 2009.

* Special-interest groups and party organizations accounted for $39.3 million, more than 40 percent of the estimated TV air-time purchases between 2000 and 2009.

* In 2008, special-interest groups and political parties accounted for 52 percent of all TV spending nationally—the first time non-candidate groups outspent the candidates on the ballot.

What frightens O'Connor about judicial elections isn't the idea of more accountability or transparency for judges: She favors that. In her introduction to the Brennan Center report she wrote, "elected judges in many states are compelled to solicit money for their election campaigns, sometimes from lawyers and parties appearing before them. Whether or not those contributions actually tilt the scales of justice, three out of four Americans believe that campaign contributions affect courtroom decisions." What scares O'Connor is that the millions of special interest dollars pouring into these judicial election campaigns will start to influence judges. She also worries that millions of dollars of special interest money pouring into judicial races tells the public exactly what Vander Plaats is trying desperately to prove in Iowa: It's not just justice that can be bought and sold to the highest bidder, it's the justices themselves.

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