Justice Out of Balance: Intro

Find Your State

Know the laws in your state that protect LGBT people and people living with HIV.

In court, everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and our rights should be protected. Yet far too often, implicit bias, ideological factors and outside influences seep into the courtroom, tainting the judicial decision-making process and damaging public confidence in the courts.

The consequences are real. A recent community survey by Lambda Legal, the U.S.’s oldest and largest legal defense organization for LGBT people and people living with HIV, revealed a significant lack of trust in the courts among LGBT and respondents with HIV. When it comes to courts, win or lose, LGBT people need to know that there isn’t a thumb on the scales and that we haven’t been shut out of the process.

The explosion in judicial campaign spending is affecting the impartiality of our courts. The most comprehensive empirical studies available show that the flood of money in judicial elections causes judges to issue more pro-business rulings, send more people to jail, and sentence more people to death.

Now research commissioned by Lambda Legal shows that state high courts with elected judges are less supportive of LGBT rights claims. The results suggest that this lack of support for LGBT rights among state high courts with elected judges can be attributed to ideological factors playing a larger role in shaping judges’ decisions in these courts.1 Growing evidence indicates that state judges who face election, often in increasingly expensive races, can cede justice to politics. Clearly, the scales of justice are out of balance.

This power imbalance is exacerbated by the serious lack of judicial diversity in our nation’s courts. While the U.S. is more diverse than ever, its state judiciaries are not. This is particularly true for state appellate courts, where white males are overrepresented by nearly double their proportion of the nation’s population.2 For our state courts to render fair decisions and to be seen as legitimate, they must reflect the rich diversity of the communities they seek to serve. Something has to be done to restore public trust and basic fairness in our courts.

Too little attention is paid to the selection and retention methods, judicial ethics rules and campaign regulations that are supposed to ensure that the judges who serve us are qualified, fair and impartial. Meanwhile far-right groups and powerful special interests have been paying attention and are working to game the system by stacking state courts with judges who will rule in accordance with their agendas.

Lambda Legal’s Fair Courts Project works to advance an independent, diverse and well-respected judiciary that upholds the constitutional and other legal rights of LGBT people and people living with HIV. It is Lambda Legal’s hope that this resource will support additional research, advocacy, litigation and policy efforts. We need to strengthen fair and impartial state courts and ensure equal access to justice for everyone.



1. Anthony Michael Kreis, Ryan Krog and Allison Trochesset, An Empirical Examination of Support for LGBT Rights Claims in State High Courts, 2003-2015, (2015).

2. Mark S. Hurwitz and Drew Noble Lanier, Diversity in State and Federal Appellate Courts: Change and Continuity across 20 Years, 29 JUST. SYS. J. 47, 52-53 (2008).


Study: How Judicial Selection Impacts LGBT Rights Decisions »