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Judges across the country are in a fight to keep their jobs. Unlike judges appointed to federal courts, many state judges run in elections to either get voted onto the court or keep their seat on the bench after they’ve been appointed and that means they have to convince voters to vote for them.

The TV ad was on every station — cable, network —  nonstop all the time for ten days. It was carpet bombing by TV ad.

— Justice Robin Hudson

So judges do what candidates in elections do: they go to state fairs, they shake hands, they kiss babies, and they spend hours on the phone fundraising. And, now they have to dodge harsh attack ads.

Fifteen years ago, judges were pretty much exempt from attack ads. But today, independent groups pour millions of dollars into state judicial races hoping to influence voters, one way or another.

In Part 5 of our series on A Fair Fight for a Fair Court, Jess Engebretson reports on the rise of attack ads in judicial elections.

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PRODUCTION NOTES

Judges v. Attack Ads was reported by Jess Engebretson and edited by Ibby Caputo, with sound design and production by Tony Gannon. Our Post Production Editors are Kirsten Jusewicz-Haidle and Rachael Cain. Special thanks to Benjamin Hardy for his help with reporting this episode. Ceil Muller was our engineer.

We’d also like to thank Professor James Gibson of Washington University in St. Louis for his scholarly advice about judicial elections.

Music in this episode is from the Audio Network.

Full Transcript of Judges v. Attack Ads

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SUGGESTED READING

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This episode of Life of the Law was funded in part by grants from the Open Society Foundations, the Law and Society Association, the Proteus Fund, the Ford Foundation, and the National Science Foundation.

Courting Voters was sponsored by Blue Apron and by HSBC.

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