Court Politics: The Political Economy of Tort Awards
We investigate the forces that explain why trial awards differ across the United States. In 23 states judges are elected and in 10 they are elected via partisan elections. Elections have two important effects. First, defendants are often out-of-state nonvoters while plaintiffs are typically in-state voters. We predict, therefore, that elected judges will redistribute wealth from out-of-state businesses to in-state plaintiffs. Second, the realities of campaign financing require judges to seek and accept campaign funding from trial lawyers, who uniformly are interested in larger awards. We hypothesize that these two forces cause awards to be larger in states where the judiciary is elected rather than appointed. We also hypothesize that the demand for redistribution will increase as poverty increases and, thus, that awards will be larger in states with greater poverty. Using a sample of over 7,000 cases across 48 of the 50 states, we find significant evidence in support of these hypotheses. Copyright 1999 by the University of Chicago.
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