Slate's judicial election campaign ad spooktacular!

Who's winning, who's losing, and why.
Oct. 26 2010 7:01 AM

Evil Men in Black Robes

Slate's judicial election campaign ad spooktacular!

Click here to launch a slideshow on evil men in black robes.

If you're a fan of The Exorcist and Carrie, if you like sex and violence and ominous music, you've come to the right place. Because we have gathered some of the most spine-chilling Halloween footage you will ever see—all produced in an effort to influence state judicial elections.

Thirty-eight states hold some form of election for their state supreme court justices, and the elections are getting ever nastier and more expensive. Whereas the spending on these races was once infinitesimal and the advertising—to the extent it existed—minimal and usually mild, that's all changing. The reasons are complicated. Judges have been targets in the culture wars, and their elections have attracted the attention of a polarized electorate. But the money behind the campaigns often comes from business, trial lawyers, and labor interests, whose bottom lines are routinely affected by state court rulings.

The United States Supreme Court shares some of the blame too. Thanks to a 2002 Supreme Court ruling that removed some restraints on what judicial candidates can say in election campaigns, plus a series of Supreme Court cases culminating in this year's Citizens United case, which removed the possibility of limits on campaign spending even in judicial elections, judicial election campaigns are looking more and more like other elections: They are more expensive, more professional, and much, much scarier. And this is becoming true even in some states (such as Iowa) that merely use "retention" elections, in which voters just vote "yes" or "no" on whether sitting judges should remain in office for the next term.

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In short, these are distinctly frightening times—especially for those of us who believe judicial elections should be different from other elections and that it is important to maintain both the appearance and actuality of impartial justice.

A path-breaking report by Hofstra professor James Sample, the Justice at Stake Campaign, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics looking at the last decade in judicial elections reveal just how bad things have become: Between 2000 and 2009, $206.9 million was spent on judicial campaigns, more than double the amount spent in the previous decade. Special interest groups, many from outside the states where the elections are taking place, have taken to television with attack ads. And, as with campaign spending for other offices, much of this money is secret.

In the midst of an already spooky campaign ad season, and wondering just how scary an attack on a dusty old moth-eaten judge could be, we went in search of some of the most negative judicial ads of this campaign, and began culling through collections of ads including those collected at the Brennan Center's Web site and the YouTube collection of the National Center for State Courts. Here are five of the scariest ads that have appeared on television, radio, or on the Internet, along with a bonus video guaranteed to send shivers down your spine: a YouTube parody following the Iowa Supreme Court justices all the way down the slippery slope after gay marriage.

Help us—if you dare!—pick the creepiest ad by casting your vote below (after you watch the slide show). And be prepared to be very afraid. If judicial campaigns become just like other political campaigns, these ads will have sequels. And those sequels will be even scarier still.

Click here for a video slide show of spooky judicial campaign ads.

Richard L. Hasen is a professor of law and political science at the UC–Irvine School of Law and is writing a book on campaign finance and political equality. Follow him on Twitter.

Dahlia Lithwick writes about the courts and the law for Slate

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