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In the News They've Waited Ten Years for this Day

July 8, 2009

There's been years of growing alarm (among judges themselves) that campaign donations in the election of judges may be corrupting America's court system. Now, the Supreme Court has ruled judges must recuse themselves from cases in which one of the parties has made a substantial financial contribution to the judge's election campaign.

So here's our lively clip on the situation in Texas, which FRONTLINE's correspondent Bill Moyers calls "the heavyweight in partisan, expensive knock-down, drag-out brawls for control of a state Supreme Court." It's taken from FRONTLINE's 1999 report, Justice for Sale, and the section chronicling how special interests and their fundraising has dramatically changed the make-up of the Texas Supreme Court.

And watch, too, this clip (remember Real Video?) from that same 1999 report -- Moyers talking with Supreme Court Justices Stephen Breyer and Anthony Kennedy about how money in judicial elections is undermining judges' independence and neutrality -- and the public's trust in impartial justice.

But ten years after that interview, Breyer and Kennedy are now part of the Supreme Court majority in a 5-4 decision ruling that judges must recuse themselves from cases involving their own big donors. It's an issue that's long troubled some members of the court: The Washington Post reported that former justice Sandra Day O'Connor was one of many jammed into the courtroom in March in order to witness the oral arguments in the case.

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