Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'JAS Partner News' Category

Commentary: Suspended Judge a 'Poster Boy' for Reform

“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 more

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In Pennsylvania, Renewed Calls for Shift to Merit Selection

supreme_seal_colorAfter the Pennsylvania Supreme Court suspended Justice Seamus McCaffery amid allegations of sending pornographic emails (see Gavel Grab), the entire episode has sparked extensive media commentary including calls for reform.

“Isn’t it time we stopped electing appellate and Supreme Court judges?” said a Pottstown Mercury editorial with the headline, “Shameful actions of justices stain state Supreme Court.” It continued, “It would be better to follow the federal example and come up with a merit selection process that has reasonable checks and balances.” It said both gubernatorial candidates back merit selection.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization advocating for merit selection, told a CBS affiliate, “We’ve received many calls in the past week asking for change.” She added, “Judges should be selected based on their personal integrity and legal qualifications. What you want is a fair and impartial judge, not somebody who got there because they campaigned their way in or because they were a good fundraiser.” Read more

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'Arms Race' for Judicial Election Spending in Michigan: JAS

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Michigan is shaping up as a major battleground for three contested seats on its state Supreme Court. Spending on TV advertising airtime has climbed to $1.2 million, as the state GOP began airing an ad promoting its nominees, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported.

The sums spent on TV advertising so far are the highest for any state supreme court election, the groups said in a joint statement on Friday. Judicial candidates have spent nearly $990,000, and the state GOP TV ad campaign has cost an estimated $244,720.

“It’s troubling that spending in Michigan’s Supreme Court race is again on track to reach astronomical proportions,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “Michigan has become a national symbol of an arms race that is putting pressure on judges to answer to political pressure instead of the law and the constitution.” Read more

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Editorial: Judicial Selection Reform Loses Strong Proponent


The American Judicature Society closed its doors a year after celebrating its 100th birthday. The disbandment of the organization is bad news “for those who support efforts to reform the judicial selection process,” says an editorial in The Des Moines Register.

Since the group’s founding in 1913, “much has been done” to implement judicial selection reform; however, much still needs to be done, the editorial asserts. Presently, 28 states elect trial judges and 21 states elect judges to their highest appellate courts (usually called the supreme court.)

“Political partisanship of the nation exhibited in Washington has spilled over into the courts,” the editorial laments. Citing Justice at Stake, the editorial reports that more than $150 million has been spent on judicial campaigns in the last three election cycles, and the money only continues to increase. Read more

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Partner Group Works to Inform Voters About Judge's Role

national-association-of-women-judgesThe National Association of Women Judges, a Justice at Stake partner organization, is working to inform voters in Florida about the role of a judge in the state court system. The group’s efforts were the topic of a recent WLRN report. 

“It’s not about the individual judges and whether they continue in their career. It’s about what kind of courts do we as citizens in this democracy want,” said Anna Blackburne-Rigsby, a U.S. Court of Appeals judge in Washington, D.C.

“The public should be informed about the reasons we have a third, separate branch of government. A branch that is to be above politics and above special interests,” says Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente,  co-chair of the Florida Informed Voters Project.

On Election Day, Florida voters will decide whether to retain 22 District Court of Appeal judges.

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American Judicature Society to Dissolve; JAS Voices Sadness

The American Judicature Society has announced that after 101 years of work to protect the integrity of the American justice system, it will close its doors. Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg made the following statement on Tuesday:

“A century ago, AJS helped light the fuse for decades of reform and progress designed to make our democracy better by keeping our courts strong, fair and independent.  We salute all of the AJS staff, directors, and faithful supporters who have worked so hard over the years to make our society better.  We are very sad to see the organization close, but its legacy will inspire all of us who work to keep courts fair and free of political influence.   In a democracy, public vigilance is essential to maintaining fair and impartial courts: Justice at Stake pledges to redouble its efforts to educate and advocate for this critical pillar of our democracy.”  Read more

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LWV of Florida Will Oppose Constitutional Amendment

The League of Women Voters of Florida has announced its opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow an outgoing governor to make certain prospective appointments of judges.

votersThe organization announced its opposition in a conference call this week, according to the Orlando Weekly blog, and retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Harry Anstead, a participant in the call, labeled the proposal “the latest in continuing efforts to politicize the third branch of government.”

At its own website, the League of Women Voters of Florida states about the proposal, “the League cannot support an amendment that could be used to undermine the independence of the judiciary; that is why we do not support Amendment 3.” Voters will weigh the ballot measure in November. Read more

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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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