- Judges are elected in most states.
- Judicial elections in many states are partisan, i.e., judges run as Republicans or Democrats.
- Judges tend not to spend much money on their campaigns, making it easier for third-party groups to dominate television advertising.
- The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has mounted an organized campaign over a period of years to elect "tort reform" supporters to the bench, triggering a responsive campaign in many jurisdictions from plaintiffs' lawyers and labor unions.
- Hot-button social issues are equally hot in state and local courts, perhaps even more so with the wave of same-sex marriage cases in state (but, so far, not federal) court.
If you live in Ohio, or Illinois, or West Virginia, or Alabama, or Georgia, you know what I'm talking about (Alabama gets a special award for defeating a conservative Republican incumbent in the primary; her sin was that she, along with all of the other associate justices on the state's supreme court, decided to comply with a legally binding federal court order to remove Roy's Rock from the courthouse).
The Justice at Stake Campaign has just released its biennial study of television advertising in state judicial races, finding, not surprisingly, that the 2004 cycle broke the record set in 2000. Their website has lots of commentary and data from around the country. It's sobering stuff.