Gavel Grab

Study: Judicial Decision-Making Affected by ‘Soft-on-Crime’ Ads

From Ad in Illinois Court Campaign

From Ad in Past Illinois Court Campaign

A new study by Emory Law School researchers and the American Constitution Society finds evidence that TV ads attacking state supreme court candidates for being “soft on crime” make judges less likely to side with criminal defendants, the New York Times reported.

The Times article noted regarding any individual justice’s response, “Since state supreme courts are multi-judge panels, it’s not clear how often the changes in their voting behavior would alter the overall ruling in specific cases.” Here are the two principal findings from the study:

  • “The more TV ads aired during state supreme court judicial elections in a state, the less likely justices are to vote in favor of criminal defendants. As the number of airings increases, the marginal effect of an increase in TV ads grows. In a state with 10,000 ads, a doubling of airings is associated on average with an 8 percent increase in justices’ voting against a criminal defendant’s appeal. Read more
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Washington Post Editorial: End Judicial Elections Now

citizens-united“[T]he courtroom is becoming the next frontier in rancorous political division” in the era of Citizens United, and the best answer for addressing the threat to impartial justice is to eliminate judicial elections entirely, a Washington Post editorial declares.

The editorial builds its case by citing both recent history and more recent developments. Linking to a report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, it prominently notes that in the past judicial election cycle, outside groups spent a record $24 million on state judicial elections.

Touching on this year’s judicial elections, it focuses on the high-spending Republican State Leadership Committee, which has discussed spending $5 million on judicial contests to advance conservative candidates, and on the battleground states the RSLC has engaged in or targeted. Read more

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Editorial: No on Amendment 3

florida-supreme-court

Floridians should vote no on Amendment 3, according to an editorial by the Sun Sentinel. (For background on the proposed constitutional amendment regarding judicial appointments, see Gavel Grab.)

The editorial bases its opinion on the 2006 state Supreme Court advisory opinion and the powers of the court’s chief justice. The opinion stated that the appointment power is clearly with the incoming governor. The chief justice also has the power to fill vacancies with other judges for a short period of time.

The three justices who would be affected by the amendment were opposed in the last election cycle by the Republican Party, which controls the executive and legislative branches in Florida. The editorial concludes by calling Amendment 3 the “latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts…”

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Commentary: Yes on Amendment 2

homeslide2

Amendment 2 “will establish a system for selecting judges that ensures that our appellate court judge or a Supreme Court justice will be independent, highly qualified and unbiased,” says Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, in a commentary in The Daily Herald. (See Gavel Grab for background on Amendment 2.)

The amendment will reflect the federal judicial appointment system with both the executive and legislative branches having a hand in the process, but also include a retention election. According to the commentary, this creates a balance of a fair and independent judiciary that still remains accountable to the people.

Judges should be “held accountable to the people of Tennessee, not the best politicians who can raise the most money from special-interest groups,” the commentary says, “We don’t want our judges to be pressured to make rulings based on campaign contributions or politics.”

 

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Article: Group Against Retention of Karmeier Spends $561,700

An outside group calling itself Campaign for 2016 has spent $561,700 for TV advertising in opposition to Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court, who is seeking retention to a new 10-year term, according to the Madison-St. Clair Record.

George Zelcs, who practices law in Chicago and is associated with attorney Stephen Tillery of St. Louis, gave $300,000 to Campaign for 2016 in mid-October, the newspaper said.

The newspaper said Tillery “was on the losing end” of a major case involving Philip Morris. It continued, “In 2005, Karmeier was one of four justices who voted to overturn a class action judgment of about $10 billion in Price v. Philip Morris. Tillery would stand to collect approximately $1.8 billion in fees from the case.” Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A Buzzfeed article about President Obama’s selection of the next attorney general quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as stressing the importance of executive branch leadership on “access to justice” issues.
  • The New York Times has a “Retro Report” video entitled “The Cost of Campaigns,” and you can learn about the debate over special interest and partisan spending on judicial elections by watching at about nine minutes into the video.
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Will Irish Surname Affect Election for Ohio Supreme Court?

What’s in a name? There’s a debate about that in an Ohio Supreme Court race. An Associated Press article puts it this way:

“Call it the hunt for Irish ‘ayes’: Republicans charge that Democrats are trying to paint the ballot green in an Ohio Supreme Court race by recruiting a candidate based solely on his Irish last name.”

The candidate is Cuyahoga County Judge John O’Donnell. He is challenging Justice Judy French. In a GOP ad she is called “Judge Judi” to snag some of the popularity of “Judge Judy” on TV. Read more

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Pennsylvania Justice McCaffery is Suspended From Bench

Justice McCaffery

Justice McCaffery

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday suspended with pay one of its justices, Seamus McCaffery. The vote followed his apology for sending sexually explicit e-mails, which he had described as private and personal.

Pennsylvania’s Judicial Conduct Board, which has begun an investigation, was ordered by the court to decide in 30 days if there is probable cause for bringing formal misconduct charges, according to a Philadelphia Inquirer article. Read more

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‘Back to the Wild West,’ Campaigning N.C. Justice Says

Justice Hudson

Justice Hudson

After North Carolina’s legislature repealed last year the state’s public financing program for judicial campaigns, “We’re kind of back to the Wild West,” said an incumbent justice seeking reelection. The National Journal article that features her concerns zeroes in on judicial candidates forced to become more like partisan politicians, and it quotes Justice at Stake.

“I’ve basically got two full-time jobs: A full-time job running a campaign. And a full-time job on the court. I’ve had to spend time on the phone when I can,” raising money, incumbent Justice Robin Hudson told National Journal for its vividly detailed article. “It’s awful.” She was the justice who made the “Wild West” remark.

Another dimension of big-spending judicial elections is a question of partiality that can arise when a judicial campaign accepts money from lawyers or law firms who later may appear before the judge. Reporter James Oliphant notes that at a multi-candidate forum, candidate and incumbent Justice Robert Hunter asked for both votes and financial support and added, “I look forward to seeing you in court.”

“At every turn,” the article states, “the candidates have encountered hand-wringing over money and influence. They insist they’re judges and lawyers first, pols second. But they’ve been dragged into a system that, across the country, increasingly blurs those lines. ‘We want judges to be different, but we’ve thrown them into this political blender where they’re just like any politician,’ says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.” Read more

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Proposed Judicial Selection Change Debated in Tennessee

TennesseeA flurry of commentary about a judicial selection ballot measure in Tennessee is providing voters with differing points of view.

The proposed constitutional amendment, called Amendment 2, would change the way appellate judges are chosen. After the governor appoints a judge, legislative confirmation would be required if the amendment passes. When a judge seeks a new term, voters would decide whether to retain him or her.

“By voting yes on Amendment 2, we can show these special interest groups that in Tennessee, justice is not for sale,” attorney Bradford D. Box wrote in a Jackson Sun op-ed. He said the constitutional language would give Tennesseans “a strong voice in every step of the process.” Read more

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