Free Law Project is pleased to announce that its OpenJudiciary.org has been selected as a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
The new project will make judicial elections more transparent for journalists and researchers by creating online profiles of judges. Profiles will show campaign contributions, judicial opinions, and biographies.
“The project aims to fill an information gap by helping citizens understand and meaningfully participate in judicial elections,” said Chris Barr, Knight Foundation director for media innovation, who leads the Prototype Fund.
A site such as OpenJudiciary.org is needed because big money is infiltrating the judicial election process. Academic research has shown that election years correlate with judges handing down harsher sentences, even an increased frequency of death sentences.
The money in state judicial elections appears to cause not only a public perception of partiality (judges being bought), but also real damage to judicial impartiality as judges are forced to fundraise from the attorneys and litigants that appear in their courts.
Free Law Project co-founder Brian Carver said, “It is currently extremely difficult for voters, journalists, or academics to investigate a judge’s past decisions and campaign contributors, and we expect OpenJudiciary.org to change that.”
Free Law Project’s CourtListener platform already contains more than 2.6 million court opinions. By combining this data with campaign finance data and other information about judges, OpenJudiciary.org will provide a means of acquiring the necessary information that makes civic engagement and informed voting possible.
Many go to the ballot box with simply no information about the judges up for election or retention. Other voters have been subjected to a constant barrage of vicious attack ads by outside groups with uncertain motives.
The problem of judicial elections has received extensive high profile coverage in the last year, with retired judges coming forward as whistle blowers, the Supreme Court hearing a case on the topic, and evenpopular comedian John Oliver dedicating a segment to it.
For those that want to get reliable non-partisan information about who is funding a judge’s campaign and what that judge’s record is, OpenJudiciary.org will be a vital new data source.
About Free Law Project
Free Law Project seeks to provide free access to primary legal materials, develop legal research tools, and support academic research on legal corpora. We work diligently with volunteers to expand our efforts at building an open source, open access, legal research ecosystem. Currently Free Law Project sponsors the development of CourtListener, Juriscraper, and RECAP.
About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence world-wide and invests in the vitality of communities in the United States where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers. Knight Foundation invests in ideas and projects that can lead to transformational change.
The Knight News Challenge on Elections is funding breakthrough ideas that better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections.
Free Law Project: Michael Lissner, Co-Founder & Project Lead; Brian Carver, Co-Founder, email@example.com
Knight Foundation: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, firstname.lastname@example.org