Archive for the 'Disclosure' Category
When four seats on the seven-member North Carolina Supreme Court come up for election in 2014, a high-spending, multiple-candidate election may unfold.
“[A]lready Republican candidates for the 2014 high court elections are gearing up for what might be an extravaganza — more candidates and lots more money, particularly if Gov. Pat McCrory signs into law proposals passed by the General Assembly [to] unleash campaign fundraising,” Sharon McCloskey wrote on Monday in the Progressive Pulse, a publication of North Carolina Policy Watch. On that day, McCrory signed the legislation.
As proof that Republicans may go gung-ho to keep or expand a 4-3 majority on the court, McCloskey cites a memo by a Republican consultant entitled, “How the North Carolina Republican Party Can Maintain Political Power for 114 Years.” The memo’s Rule #5 admonishes, “Lose the courts, lose the war.”
The election reform law that McCrory signed into law eliminates public financing for judicial elections, as Gavel Grab has mentioned earlier. It also raises a ceiling on the donations an individual can give to a candidate from $4,000 to $5,000 per election cycle and cuts back on campaign finance disclosure requirements. Read more
After a dramatic finale in which the Supreme Court released several high-profile rulings, it is facing renewed pressure to become more transparent in its proceedings, according to a lengthy USA Today article.
“There have been baby steps taken to make the court more transparent, but it is still in many respects the least transparent branch of the three branches of government,” Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center, told the newspaper.
But Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has firmly disagreed. “We are the most transparent branch of the government,” he said in 2011 (see Gavel Grab).
Leading proposals from lawmakers and watchdog groups include letting cameras in the courtroom, permitting a live audio broadcast of court proceedings, and formally adopting an ethics code (Gavel Grab has background).
Reporter Richard Wolf wrote that the court is not likely to change its procedures immediately, but the demands “could eventually help loosen up an institution that guards its privacy and autonomy.” Read more
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (photo) ought to veto legislation that would restrict public disclosure of information about judges who get reprimands for misconduct, a Charlotte Observer editorial declares. It rests its case on part of the importance public trust in the integrity of the courts:
“Nothing is more essential to a well-functioning judicial system than the morality and incorruptibility of judges and, importantly, the public’s belief in that. That’s why Gov. Pat McCrory should veto legislation currently sitting on his desk that undercuts the reliable system that now holds judges accountable.”
The editorial criticizes the legislation (see Gavel Grab) on grounds that it would bring new secrecy to judicial disciplinary proceedings and that it “politicizes an approach that has operated in an effective and nonpartisan way for years.” Read more
The Iowa Ethics and Campaign Disclosure Board has voted unanimously to investigate a complaint filed by an activist alleging the National Organization for Marriage violated state law by failing to disclose all of its donors when it pushed in 2010 and 2012 retention elections to oust four Iowa Supreme Court justices.
So far, ethics board executive director Megan Tooker said, “[W]e haven’t found that NOM did anything wrong.” But she found “absolutely false” the organization’s claims that it is legal to keep secret the names of donors, and other statements it made about Iowa disclosure laws, according to a Quad-City Times article.
The justices participated in a 2009 ruling that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. Activist Fred Karger, who filed the complaint, said it involves important issues because NOM may press in the future to oust other state Supreme Court justices who participated in the ruling and to defeat a state Senate leader who has championed the right of same-sex couples to marry. Read more
Fair courts in North Carolina are facing challenges from multiple directions as a result of action in this year’s legislature.
Gavel Grab has reported extensively about the legislature’s elimination of a public financing program for judicial elections. Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress says in a ThinkProgress blog post that there’s more: the legislature voted to cut back on campaign finance disclosure requirements. He reports about an election changes bill approved by the legislature:
“The bill also eliminates a corporate independent spending disclosure rule and a requirement that independent spenders running ads from May to September of an election year must disclose their donors.”
Corriher also touches on changes judicial discipline procedures that the legislature approved. (The North Carolina Bar Association has urged a veto by Gov. Pat McCrory.) Corriher says the changes “will make the justices less accountable for violating rules designed to prevent conflicts of interest from undermining the integrity of the judiciary.” Read more
A request by Justice at Stake and seven other open-government groups for the U.S. Supreme Court to make justices’ annual financial disclosure statements available immediately and online (see Gavel Grab) captured coverage by the Blog of Legal Times.
“This policy change will make it much easier for interested citizens to access the Justices’ financial information, promoting public confidence in the federal government in general, and in the Supreme Court in particular,” the groups said in a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, according to the blog post. “As the highest court in the nation, the Supreme Court would also serve as a powerful model of transparency and openness for the rest of the judiciary—both state and federal.”
BLT also wrote about the difficulties of the current disclosure process, including laws and regulations that shape a process managed by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts, not the U.S. Supreme Court or others.
In 1999 an attempt to post disclosure forms online was blocked by the Administrative Office but the forms were later released in 2000. There have been multiple efforts to seek greater transparency from the court over the years. To read the full letter sent by Justice at Stake and other organizations, click here.
In a letter to Chief Justice John Roberts, the groups asked for the court to post the justices’ annual financial disclosure statements on the court’s website as soon as they become available each year, and to start with reports filed in 2013. Under current practice, individuals and groups can ask the court for a copy of a justice’s disclosure form, but they are not posted on the court’s website.
“This policy change will make it much easier for interested citizens to access the Justices’ financial information, promoting public confidence in the federal government in general, and in the Supreme Court in particular,” the letter said.
“As the highest court in the nation, the Supreme Court would also serve as a powerful model of transparency and openness for the rest of the judiciary — both state and federal.” Read more
The Associated Press reports that Jeff King, the chairman of the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee, has called for an open confirmation process for Governor Sam Brownback’s next nominee to the state Court of Appeals. The report follows controversy over changes to the selection process for appeals court judges. Brownback has come under fire for a lack of transparency in the new process, under which he will select one nominee from a secret slate of candidates.
King said that because the process for selecting judges to the Court of Appeals is so new—it was just signed into law last month— it is important for the Senate to create a strong precedent for future appointees. He has proposed holding an open meeting in the fall in which members of the Senate Judiciary Committee as well as the public would be able to question the nominee chosen by Brownback. However, the full list of applicants would remain undisclosed.
According to the AP Report, Anthony Hensley, the Senate Minority Leader, has raised questions about King’s plan, saying that the role of questioning candidates should be fulfilled by the smaller Confirmation Oversight Committee. However, he acknowledged, “We’re in uncharted waters here.”
The Kansas’s Senate’s commitment to inject transparency into the confirmation process does little to mitigate the fact that Brownback has thus far kept every stage of the appellate selection process shrouded in secrecy. Read more about the developments in Kansas on Gavel Grab.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback continues to get a thumping from editorial pages unhappy with his decision to keep secret the names of applicants for a Court of Appeals judgeship. One of the latest editorials, in the Hays Daily News, derides what it calls “The royal governor.”
One of Brownback’s defenders has contended that the governor is facing extensive criticism because he is the one making the appointment, not because of the new secrecy Brownback has invoked for applicants under a judicial selection law passed by the 2013 legislature. In this process, the governor appoints a judge subject to state Senate confirmation.
Addressing that defense, the editorial takes issue with both Brownback’s appointments record and with the new judicial selection process. It also points out that the American Bar Association is supportive of merit-based judicial selection systems for picking state judges, whereas Brownback stated earlier — about keeping names of judicial applicants secret — that the ABA “recommends this method of selection.” The editorial continues:
“Kansans will never know how qualified the pool of applicants will be for the Court of Appeals. Citizens only will discover the one person Brownback selected. The appointee will be confirmed by the Kansas Senate, which has been winnowed to a solid conservative majority after the governor helped defeat moderates from his own party.” Read more
As Gov. Sam Brownback reconsiders his decision not to divulge names of applicants for a Kansas Court of Appeals judgeship, the Wichita Eagle editorial department blogged that the reasons given for secrecy so far were faulty.
Brownback’s office drew a parallel with the process in Washington, D.C. for choosing federal judges when it rejected a legal request by the League of Women Voters of Kansas to make the names public.
The comparison is “flawed,” the editorial department said: “Federal judges do not apply for the job but are chosen by the president, often upon the recommendation of senators from the relevant states, before their nominations are vetted and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. So there are no applicants’ names to release.”
That’s not all, it added. “Likening the new process to that used for [Kansas] Cabinet jobs doesn’t work, either. Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of a governor. Appellate judges are supposed to serve justice.” Read more