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SCOTUS Rules on Judges and Campaign Donations

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled elected judges must step aside from cases

involving people who’ve made big donations to their campaigns. A former Texas

Supreme Court judge says this won’t have much impact in Texas, as Jim Bell reports.


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The high court says judges who don’t recuse themselves from cases involving big campaign donors create the appearance of bias and deprive the other side of a fair trial.  Former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Phillips supports appointing judges for this very reason. He says requiring judges to run for election forces them to be politicians.

“The notion of running on a political party and setting forth issues and gathering supporters based on that is really wholly foreign to the job of what a judge does in office.” 

Texas law limits donations made directly to a judge’s campaign, but there are no limits on how much someone can spend indirectly to support a judge’s campaign. Even so, Phillips says he doesn’t expect this ruling to have much impact in Texas.

“In states like Texas that have a fairly carefully drawn campaign contribution limit for judges, I don’t see how any direct contribution to a judge’s campaign could ever rise to the level that would be unconstitutional.”

Phillips says Texas once had a terrible reputation over the perception of justice being for sale to judges’ big campaign donors.

“I had a chief justice of another country walk away from me when I said I was the head of the court system in Texas. Our reputation has gotten a little better since then, but the election process always leaves the state open to criticism.”

Jim Bell, KUHF, Houston Public Radio News.

For more information, view the Justice at Stake Campaign web site.

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