Gavel Grab

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Citing JAS, Stateline Spotlights Perils of Big-Spending Judicial Elections

With partisan and special interest groups “pouring” money into state judicial elections, the stakes for preserving fair and impartial courts are high, Justice at Stake and a partner group warn in a Stateline article.

JAS-LogoRegarding the corrosive effect of this special interest spending, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told Stateline, “The public has become firmly convinced that justice is for sale.”

“Courts are under threat,” said Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice. “What they (special interests) are trying to do is shape who’s sitting on our courts and shape decisions.”

In addition to reporting on judicial election trends, Stateline discusses legislative efforts in states such as Kansas to change the way supreme court justices are selected by giving more authority to the governor and legislators. Read more

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In KS Governor’s Race, Opposing Views on Judicial Selection

Kansas-Flag-2As Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and Democrat Paul Davis square off in the Kansas race for governor, an important issue that divides them is the best way of choosing state Supreme Court justices.

A KCUR report provides an in-depth look at the issue. Brownback has supported efforts to scrap a judicial nominating commission that vets candidates for the high court, while Davis has resisted such efforts. And Brownback recently named his former counsel, Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, to the high court, in an action that was questioned by some advocates.

A vetting commission had failed to include Stegall’s name among candidates who applied in 2012 for a seat on the Court of Appeals, but after the legislature eliminated the vetting commission, he was named to that court by Brownback. “The entire process was essentially changed just to get Justice Stegall through the system,” said Ryan Wright of Kansans for Fair Courts. This year, Read more

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Column Faults ‘Despicable’ Attack on Arkansas Courts

Arkansas_quarter_reverse_side_2003It is time for citizens who are concerned about protecting fair and impartial courts to stand up and denounce “vile smears” and other attacks on the courts, a Lambda Legal official warns in a column for (San Diego Gay and Lesbian News).

The column by Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager for Lambda Legal, is headlined, “The despicable antigay attack on Arkansas’ courts.” Lesh criticizes a resolution by the Arkansas Legislative Council, submitted to the state Supreme Court, accusing a trial court judge of failing to uphold the state Constitution when he declared unconstitutional a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab for more).

“Attacks on our courts are outrageous and put our system of justice at risk, but we do not have to resign ourselves to the ‘new normal’ of a politicized judicial branch,” Lesh writes. Lambda Legal is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS, Partner: Special Interests Take Aim at Reshaping Courts

When state high court judges and candidates face voters this fall, special interest groups are expected to flood the contests with spending in an effort to reshape the courts, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice warned on Thursday.

JAS-LogoAlready this year, more than $3.1 million has been spent on TV ads in state supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the groups said in a statement.  Three states with off-cycle elections (Tennessee, Idaho, and Arkansas) saw greater spending than in their prior election cycles, while North Carolina saw record spending in its primary (more than $1.3 million).

“The warning signs are there: more special interest campaigns are on the way to capture courts and pressure judges,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “It’s time to start looking seriously at solutions that would reduce political pressure on our courts, put quality first and keep judges from raising money from parties who appear before them.” Read more

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With Court Order, Judges Let Themselves Pack Firearms

OhioFlag1With incidents of violence security threats on the rise in court buildings, four Court of Appeals judges in Ohio have authorized themselves to carry guns in and outside of the courtroom.

A WOUB news report said the judges, in an order, exempted themselves from a requirement for firearms training and for holding a permit to carry a concealed weapon.

The court order said protecting judges beyond routine work hours and beyond the courthouse is critical. Read more

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New Report Examines Judicial Nominating Commissions in U.S.

logo_squareThe Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its Quality Judges Initiative have released a new report on the judicial nominating commissions used to select supreme court justices in 30 states.

The report is entitled Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices. The report states in its conclusion: Read more

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Top N.C. Judge Warns of Perception That ‘Our Courts are for Sale’

Chief Justice Parker

Chief Justice Parker

Chief Justice Sarah Parker of the North Carolina Supreme Court, who will retire Saturday, recently spotlighted her concerns about the impact on impartial courts of high-spending and increasingly politicized judicial elections.

“(I)f people perceive that our courts are for sale, they will lose confidence in the ability of courts to be fair and impartial,” she told the North Carolina Bar Association in Wilmington, according to the (Charlotte) Observer. “…We must have judges committed to the rule of law … without regard to politics, special interests or personal agenda.”

The newspaper’s article profiling Justice Parker said she supported the state’s public financing program for judicial elections, which the General Assembly eliminated last year. Her remarks this summer came on the heels Read more

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Ten Court-Related Items on State Ballots This Fall

A constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee is among 10 court-related items that will appear on nine state ballots this fall, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

Two of the ballot items will involve mandatory retirement for judges. In Hawaii, voters will weigh raising from 70 to 80 the mandatory retirement age. In Louisiana, voters will consider eliminating a mandatory retirement age entirely.

In Florida, voters will consider a ballot item that would allow a governor who is stepping down to make appointments to the bench for vacancies that occur on inauguration day. Read more

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Judicial Election Deluge of ‘Big Political Money’ in National News

gavel_cash-300x202What could be the biggest state court election this year is beginning to attract more national news media attention. Bloomberg Businessweek has now zeroed in on the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election with an article entitled, “Big Political Money Now Floods Judges’ Races, Too.”

Businessweek highlights the activity of outside groups “known for spending to influence presidential and congressional elections.” They have bought TV and radio advertising targeting three Tennessee justices seeking a new term. The justices, appointed by a Democratic governor (see Gavel Grab for background), have raised money and fought back with their own TV ads. The article also spotlights increasing spending on once-inexpensive judicial races by outside groups since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010.

“After the Citizens United ruling, the focus on outside spending was of course on federal races,”  Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, told Businessweek. “But then everybody figured out that they could do the same thing at the state races.” NIMSP is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS: Will AFP ‘Transform Judicial Politics in the United States’?

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

The air wars have begun in earnest over Tennessee’s Aug. 7 Supreme Court election. Justice at Stake said the engagement of one outside group, Americans for Prosperity, has the potential to “transform judicial politics in the United States.”

Out-of-state groups spending to unseat three  Supreme Court justices now include the Koch brothers-linked AFP, the Republican State Leadership Committee (which distributed fliers) and the State Government Leadership Foundation, a RSLC partner group,  said JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice.

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice.  But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement.  “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that Read more

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