Judicial Campaigns and Elections
Canon 7 of Pennsylvania's code of judicial conduct, judicial
candidates should not:
- Make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the
faithful and impartial performance of the duties of the office;
make statements that commit or appear to commit them with
respect to cases or controversies likely to come before the court;
misrepresent their identity, qualifications, present
position, or other facts.
- Personally solicit or accept campaign funds or
solicit publicly stated support. However, candidates may
establish committees to secure and manage campaign funds and to
obtain public statements of support for the candidates. Candidate
committees may not solicit contributions earlier than thirty
days prior to the first day for filing nominating petitions or
the last day for filing a declaration of intention to seek
2002, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court amended Canon 7 to conform with
the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in
Republican Party of Minnesota v. White,
536 U.S. 765
(2002), substituting the "commit clause" for the "announce clause"
held unconstitutional in White.
There are no limits on campaign contributions from individuals
and PACs. However, contributions from corporations, labor unions,
and regulated industries are prohibited.
According to a study of the financing of Pennsylvania Supreme Court
elections from 1979 to 1997, slightly more than $17 million was
contributed to the thirty-five competitive supreme court candidates.
The legal profession, including the plaintiff's bar and large
defense-oriented law firms, accounted for more than half of this
amount. The remainder came primarily from pro-business individuals
and PACs. See James Eisenstein, "Financing Pennsylvania's
Supreme Court Candidates," 84 Judicature 10 (2000).
Another study conducted by the Institute
on Money in State Politics showed that contributions to the
thirty candidates for supreme court seats between 1989 and 1999
totaled $13 million. Five of the candidates in contested races
raised more than $1 million each. Slightly more than one fourth of
the cases heard by the supreme court during this period involved
campaign contributors. Click
to view the complete report on this study.
In the 2001 elections, fourteen candidates for appellate seats
raised approximately $2.7 million, more than half of which came from
attorneys. In a race for a seat on the supreme court, the two
candidates reported campaign chests of more than $1 million each.
These amounts did
not include substantial
expenditures by third parties such as the Law Enforcement Alliance
of America (LEAA). LEAA, a Virginia-based group, spent between
$300,000 and $600,000 on television advertisements touting one of
the supreme court candidates and portraying the other as being soft
on crime. The ads were suspended by a local judge after the LEAA
declined to comply with the state's financial disclosure
requirements. The order was later upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme
Court. Another group, Pennsylvania Law Watch,
analyses of the candidates' decisions that characterized one as
anti-business and the other as business-friendly. Democratic Party
leaders filed a suit alleging that Law Watch was in violation of the
state's election code, and as a result of a settlement, Law Watch
agreed not to engage in further attempts to influence voters in the
The outcome of
the 2001 race shifted the composition of the supreme court from a
4-3 Democratic majority to a 4-3 Republican-dominated court.
OPINION POLLS AND SURVEYS
Justice at Stake Campaign
64% of Pennsylvania judges expressed dissatisfaction with the
tone and conduct of judicial campaigns. 61% of judges
supported a generic proposal for public financing of judicial
elections, and 59% approved of a generic proposal for merit
selection and retention of judges. Click
here for complete poll results.
Special Commission to Limit Campaign Expenditures (1998)
81% of Pennsylvania voters thought that too much money
was spent on judicial campaigns. 88% of voters thought that
judges' courtroom decisions were influenced at least some of the
time by campaign contributions. 64% believed that limiting
campaign contributions would improve honesty and integrity in