With independent spending against an Illinois Supreme Court justice rising in his retention election, Justice at Stake called attention to the situation and said, “The system for picking judges in Illinois is breaking down.”
Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 fight against Gordon Maag for the Supreme Court set spending records at the time. Now Justice Karmeier is facing opposition in his retention bid from a group called Campaign for 2016. You can learn about the individuals funding it from earlier Gavel Grab posts.
“Interest groups are trying to buy courts, judges are raising money from parties who appear before them, and potential conflicts of interest are multiplying. It’s no wonder that the public believes that justice is for sale,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement on Thursday. Read moreNo comments
And more than two out of three voters in Cole County are concerned that politically charged judicial elections will pressure judges to make decisions based on public opinion, rather than the facts and the law, JAS said in disclosing the results of a poll it commissioned of 579 voters.
According to recent news reports, the Republican State Leadership Committee has injected $200,000 into the race. Cole County Circuit Court is influential throughout the state, having jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. Cole County is the seat of the state capitol.
“Not surprisingly, Cole County voters grow very suspicious when out of state money is injected into judicial elections,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake in a statement. Read moreNo comments
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- U.S. District Judge Katherine Bolan Forrest, who is overseeing the $1.2 billion Silk Road drug case, has been threatened online and had personal information leaked, according to the ABA Journal.
- USA Today reports that Magistrate Judge Gilbert Breedlove in North Carolina has resigned to avoid having to perform same-sex marriages. His personal, religious beliefs conflicted with the recent ruling of the appeals court that struck down the same-sex marriage ban.
Released close to Election Day, a new report that correlates attack ads accusing judges of being “soft-on-crime” and the judges’ decision-making is sparking discussion in the blogosphere.
Esquire’s Politics Blog with Charles P. Pierce devoted a lengthy post to the report by two Emory University Law School professors and the American Constitution Society, saying it “shows quite clearly that, in states where the judges are elected, the same dismal infection that has sickened our politics in the other two branches of government, has set in quite virulently in the third as well.”
Pierce lamented that the report reflects how “the new era of legalized influence-peddling encouraged by Citizens United and by McCutcheon has dawned in the courtroom as well, with easily predicted results.” To document the increasingly important role of outside spending in judicial elections, he relies on a report last year by Justice at Stake and partner organizations. Read moreNo comments
Published opinion in Florida continues to pound away at a proposed constitutional amendment to allow an outgoing governor certain prospective appointments of judges.
“Floridians must reject the Legislature’s proposal to strip the power to appoint judges from the newly elected governor and give that power to an unaccountable lame-duck governor,” Howard L. Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, writes in a Tallahassee Democrat op-ed.
An Ocala Star Banner editorial says, “The constitution is clear about when appointments should occur and who should make them,” and it urges voters to reject Amendment 3 on Election Day. To learn more about the debate over Amendment 3, see Gavel Grab.No comments
As a $200,000 injection of outside money from a national group (see Gavel Grab) changes the focus of a Cole County, Missouri election for Circuit Court, a St. Louis Post editorial calls for changing the way judges are chosen there.
Cole County voters would do well to follow the model of Greene County voters, who decided in 2008 to halt electing local judges and instead adopt the merit-based selection system that is used to choose local judges in St. Louis and Kansas City, and all state appellate judges, the editorial says.
“The administration of justice is too important to have questions about whether one donor, or a group of donors, can buy their own judicial outcomes by using their cash to tilt an election,” the editorial asserts. Read moreNo comments
The politics and money in a testy race for the Montana Supreme Supreme Court are threatening to overwhelm other issues. That’s a conclusion that can be drawn from an Associated Press article entitled, “Montana Supreme Court race takes on partisan edge.”
The challenger is former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke. He is “trying to cast Justice Mike Wheat as a liberal activist judge as his Republican backers pour tens of thousands of dollars into ads to support that message,” the AP said.
Justice Wheat retorted, “Our court system is under attack from out-of-state money. When it’s over, I guess they will spend somewhere around $1 million. Why in the heck would they do that? Because they want a court that is not fair and balanced, a court that is going to make decisions more to their liking.” Read moreNo comments
“When are we going to reform the stupid way we choose these people?” That’s the question Allentown Morning Call columnist Bill White asks after an email scandal led to the suspension of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice.
White labels recently suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery (see Gavel Grab) “the judicial system’s Prince of Porn” and he also notes the conviction on public corruption charges in 2013 of an ex-justice, Joan Orie Melvin. White urges a shift to a merit selection system for choosing judges, saying that “with merit selection, we at least can ensure that the men and women we’re choosing are qualified and unbought.”
Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which has worked to advance merit selection legislation, told White, “Judges should be selected based on their record of personal integrity and temperament and qualifications, not on whether they’re good campaigners, good fundraisers or have a good ballot position.” White’s column is headlined, “McCaffery is new poster boy for merit selection.” Read moreNo comments
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The Arizona Performance Commission on Judicial Retention has rated two Superior Court judges as unfit for a new term in office, the Arizona Republic reported.
- Sue Carlton wrote a Tampa Bay Times column that was headlined, “Weirdness in electing Florida judges is still as good as it gets.” It mentioned an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court case over Florida’s prohibition on judicial candidates soliciting campaign cash.
- A New York Times article about the U.S. attorney general, who is stepping down, was headlined, “A Holder Legacy: Shifting Terror Cases to the Courts, and Winning.”
Illinois state Sen. Dave Leuchtefeld, a friend and supporter of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier, said opposition to the justice’s retention has been headed up by plaintiffs’ attorneys who stand to benefit if the court rules their way in two class-action cases.
“For these attorneys, it’s just like putting money in the stock market. It’s an investment,” Leuchtefeld told the Belleville News-Democrat. Earlier this week, Gavel Grab mentioned TV advertising critical of Justice Karmeier aired by a group calling itself Campaign for 2016. According to the News-Democrat, “The anti-Karmeier commercial slams him for accepting campaign donations from businesses during his 2004 election campaign and ‘letting corporations buy justice.’” Read moreNo comments