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Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs

"Free to Judge" Book Talk with Michael S. Kang & Joanna M. Shepherd

Buffett Book Talk

The Buffett Institute for Global Affairs hosted a book talk with Michael S. Kang and Joanna M. Shepherd, co-authors of the new book Free to Judge: The Power of Campaign Money in Judicial Elections, in discussion with Brian Libgober, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Law at Northwestern University, and Albert Yoon, Professor and Michael J. Trebilcock Chair in Law and Economics at the University of Toronto, moderated by Jonathan Nash, Robert Howell Hall Professor of Law and Co-director of the Center on Federalism and Intersystemic Governance at Emory University.

Free to Judge explores how and why money increasingly affects the dispensation of justice in our legal system, and what can be done to stop it. One of the barriers to action in the past has been an inability to prove that campaign donations influence state judicial decision-making. In this book, Kang and Shepherd answer that challenge for the first time, with a rigorous empirical study of campaign finance and judicial decision-making data. Pairing this with interviews of past and present judges, they create a compelling and persuasive account of people like Marsha Ternus, the first Iowa state supreme court justice to be voted out of office after her decision in a same-sex marriage case. The threat of such an outcome, and the desire to win reelection, results in judges demonstrably leaning towards the interests and preferences of their campaign donors across all cases. Free to Judge is thus able to identify the pieces of our current system that invite bias, such as judicial reelection, and what reforms should focus on.