The United States is one of just a few countries where judges are elected, and the amount of money required to win a judicial election has sharply increased over the past few decades. A 2013 report from three fair courts organizations notes, “as the cost of judicial campaigns has soared, the boundaries that keep money and political pressure from interfering with the rule of law have become increasingly blurred.” For instance, a previous report from the Center for American Progress identified “a troubling correlation between North Carolina Supreme Court rulings and the success rate of firms that gave big donations to judicial candidates”—raising major concerns about corporate influence in both judicial races and judicial decision making.

This analysis draws from a previous CAP report to assess the strength of judicial recusal laws by state, comprising evaluations in eight categories such as whether campaign cash is listed as a basis for recusal, whether the judge alone makes an initial decision to recuse, whether the state allows preemptory recusal, and more. Only the 39 states with elected judges were scored.

For a more detailed explanation of each factor, including citations, please download the full report.

Click to view scoring methodology
  1. State's Performance
    Points added to score
  2. For state ranked 1
    0 points
  3. Among states ranked 2–5
    1 points
  4. Among states ranked 6-10
    2 points
  5. Among states ranked 11-15
    3 points
  6. Among states ranked 16-20
    4 points
  7. Among states ranked 21-25
    5 points
  8. Among states ranked 26-30
    6 points
  9. Among states ranked 31-35
    7 points
  10. Among states ranked 36-40
    8 points
  11. Among states ranked 41-45
    9 points
  12. Among states ranked 46-51
    10 points
Policy Recommendation for This Factor
Strengthen judicial recusal laws

Judicial recusal laws are crucial to maintaining an independent judiciary. States should strengthen these laws to address the following eight categories, taken from a previous CAP report:

  • Whether campaign cash is listed as a basis for recusal
  • Whether independent spending is listed as a basis for recusal
  • Whether the judge alone makes the initial decision to recuse
  • Whether the judge is required to respond on the record
  • Whether the judge is required to disclose campaign contributions on the record
  • Whether the judge must recuse whenever his or her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned”
  • Whether parties may agree to waive recusal
  • Whether the state allows preemptory recusal

Click here to see a full list of policy recommendations to improve the health of state democracies based on the findings of this report.

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© 2015 Center for American Progress Action Fund

Press Contact: Benton Strong at Bstrong@americanprogressaction.org 202-481-8142

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