Gavel Grab

Ramsey: Keep-Politics-Out-of-Courts Message Won in Tennessee

Lt. Gov. Ramsey

Lt. Gov. Ramsey

In Tennessee’s Supreme Court retention election, the chief message of three re-elected justices that politics does not belong in the courtroom clearly prevailed, the politician who spearheaded the opposition said.

“Obviously their message won that we don’t need politics in the courtroom, although we all know there is politics in the courtroom,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said, according to a Kingsport Times-News article. “It was a spirited campaign and both sides had a message out. People chose the other side. I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever.”

Three Democrat-appointed justices were given new terms by voters on Aug. 7 after Ramsey, a Republican, accused them of being soft on crime and anti-business. The well-financed campaign to unseat the justices, which also drew support from out-of-state groups, has drawn postmortems in Tennessee and attention nationally and internationally (see Gavel Grab): Read more

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Governor Elevates Judge to North Carolina Supreme Court

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has appointed Judge R.N. “Bob” Hunter of the state Court of Appeals to the state Supreme Court. Judge Hunter also is seeking election to a full term on the high court in a race with Judge Sam Ervin IV.

Judge Hunter told WECT that he hopes the appointment, which takes effect Sept. 6, will give him an advantage. “I hope it’s an advantage. I hope it’s not a disadvantage,” he said. “But I don’t really look at that so much as I look at doing the work and trying to make sure everybody understands that I’m going to be straight down the middle and fair to everybody.”

Judge Hunter will fill the remainder of Justice Mark Martin’s term. Earlier this week McCrory named Justice Martin as Chief Justice, to succeed Chief Justice Sarah Parker when she retires Aug. 31, according to the Associated Press.

Judge Hunter is a Republican, the (Raleigh) News & Observer noted. Judge Ervin is a Democrat. Gov. McCrory is a Republican. Soon five of the high court’s seven seats will be held by Republicans, the newspaper said. The Supreme Court election is non-partisan.

 

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The Economist, Citing JAS: ‘Electing Judges is a Bad Idea’

Economist cartoon

Economist cartoon

Through the lens of the London-based The Economist, judicial elections in the United States appear downright disturbing. That’s according to a new Economist article that relies on Justice at Stake for data about exploding spending in state judicial elections.

Every year or two The Economist revisits the topic of judicial elections in America. This time it discusses an “unexpectedly political” Tennessee Supreme Court race and a “mudslinging” North Carolina Supreme Court primary. The article’s unnamed author then assails the idea of electing judges:

“Electing judges is a bad idea because judges are not like politicians. It is fine for a politician to make deals with voters; to say, ‘Vote for me and I’ll raise the minimum wage’ or ‘Vote for me and I’ll cut taxes.’ But it is an abuse of power for a judge to promise—or even hint—that he will decide future cases on any basis other than the facts and the law. Standing for election gives judges an incentive to smile on people voters like and get tough on those they hate. That is hardly a recipe for impartiality.” Read more

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Will MI Party Convention See Sparks Over Judge Nomination?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004Will there be political sparks when Michigan Democrats hold a convention this weekend to nominate state Supreme Court candidates, among others? A Detroit News article suggests that possibility.

The “apparent anti-abortion position” of Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy, who wants to serve on the Supreme Court, has generated opposition in Democrats’ pro-abortion rights circles, the newspaper said.

Judge Murphy told the Detroit News about abortion,“I don’t go about expressing my views on this issue or others.” He said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me or any other judge to commit to a position on any issue.” In an unsuccessful bid for the high court in 1996, he was endorsed by  Right to Life of Michigan. Read more

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Greenhouse: Efforts to Influence Courts ‘By Any Means Necessary’

US Supreme CourtMillions of Americans stand to be affected by any final decision in the federal courts about the legality of the government subsidizing health insurance premiums for individuals.

In the wake of dueling federal court opinions on this issue (see Gavel Grab), Linda Greenhouse offers an intriguing analysis in the New York Times about the protracted efforts of federal Affordable Care Act foes to derail the law in the courts. She calls it “turning to the courts to achieve what politics won’t deliver” and suggests the latest efforts rely on an extremely fine point of law. Read more

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Christian Post Essay: Courts Threatened by Money in Elections

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdIn the Christian Post, described by Wikipedia as an evangelical Christian newspaper, a guest contributor registers concern over the influence of money in politics and says it is threatening our courts too. Nate Kratzer’s essay cites data from Justice at Stake:

“Not only are our politics tilted toward donors who have bankrolled our elections but our independent branch of government, the Courts, are threatened too. According to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12 report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, 87 percent of voters said they believed direct donations to judges’ campaigns and independent spending by outside groups on TV ads had either ‘some’ or ‘a great deal’ of influence on the decisions of judges. The American Constitution Society’s report, Justice at Risk, draws a direct correlation between contributions and judicial decisions, especially in business.” Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court placed on hold a lower-court ruling that said unions of same-sex couples could begin in Virginia on Thursday, the Washington Post reported. 
  • The election commission in Anderson County, Tennessee certified the results of Aug. 7 elections, including the victory of a judicial candidate who is facing child-support proceedings, the Oak Ridger said. See Gavel Grab for background.
  • An Associated Press article was headlined, “East Texas county judge gives self $24K pay cut, salary to now match county commissioners.”
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JAS: Poll Finds TN Voters Want to Keep Politics out of Courts

TennesseeA strong majority of Tennesseans who voted on Aug. 7 oppose partisan politics having a role in the courts or in retention (up-or-down) elections for judges, according to a poll commissioned by Justice at Stake and released on Thursday.

Three justices were retained by voters in spite of well-funded efforts to unseat them, by both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and out-of-state groups such as the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity. More than $1.4 million was spent on TV advertising.

Eighty-five percent of voters said in responding to a post-election poll that it is “very” or “somewhat” important to keep politics out of the courts, with a full 70 percent calling it “very important.”  Eighty percent said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that politically charged retention elections Read more

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FL Judicial Candidate ‘Recants’ on Signing Group’s Pledge

Peggy Rowe-Linn, a candidate for a judgeship in Palm Beach County, Florida, has “recanted” her signing a pledge to support the positions of Personhood FL ProLife PAC, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I am a practicing Catholic and personally pro-life; however, I am and have always been completely tolerant of diverse positions contrary to my own,” the attorney and judicial candidate said. “After careful and thoughtful reflection, I am retracting my affirmation. This is to avoid any mistaken impression concerning my impartiality. My personal beliefs remain unchanged.”

She alone of 300 judicial candidates in Florida had signed the group’s affirmation. She received an endorsement from the group. It was not clear whether she violated any canons of judicial ethics, the newspaper said; you can learn background about the controversy from Gavel Grab.

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Big Spending Spilling Over to Local Judicial Races in Florida?

In Florida, it appears that a practice of big-money spending on judicial races has spilled over from the 2012 state Supreme Court election to two local Miami-Dade races this summer.

There is a “bitter election battle” in the two races between the political action committees established by an auto insurance company and by private injury attorneys, with the former supporting two incumbent judges by spending almost $227,000 so far, the Miami Herald reported.

The former PAC is named Citizens for Judicial Fairness and the latter, Citizens for Judicial Excellence; it has raised $47,000. The newspaper said the former group’s spending “appears to be a first” for a local judicial election, and that the treasurer for one of the incumbent judges’ campaigns resigned in protest “over the perception that a special-interest group is spending exorbitantly before the Aug. 26 election.” Read more

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