Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

JAS Featured in Fair-Courts Coverage, Including NY Times

As judicial elections — and in many cases, related spending — heat up around the country, how can fair and impartial courts be protected? From the New York Times to smaller news outlets, reporters exploring this issue cited Justice at Stake in articles over the past days.

JAS-Logo“Judicial campaign cash is burning a hole in the Constitution,” Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, told the Times. “You cannot pour millions of dollars into our courtrooms without having an effect.” The newspaper’s article by Adam Liptak relied on data provided by JAS that the last three election cycles have included $152 million spent on judicial races.

More sanguine about judicial elections and spending was lawyer James Bopp Jr., attorney and architect of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, who told the newspaper, “There is no perfect system.” Bopp added,“The balance is between the need for judicial independence to faithfully follow the law and to be held accountable if they do not follow their function and become activist.”

The Times focused on a request before the Supreme Court to take up a case from Florida, asking whether judicial candidates may personally solicit campaign donations. The issue has divided federal appeals courts that ruled upon it. Thirty states where judges are elected ban this kind of personal Read more

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Appeals Court to Review Arizona Ethics Rules Case

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to hold a rehearing on a case involving challenges to several rules from the Arizona Code of Judicial Ethics. Justice at Stake was among groups that requested the rehearing in Wolfson v. Concannon.

According to a Courthouse News Service article, “Arizona’s refusal to let unelected judicial candidates solicit campaign contributions will face en banc review, the 9th Circuit said Friday.” Earlier, a Ninth Circuit panel had ruled that judicial candidates who are not judges may personally solicit campaign contributions and may participate in other political campaigns and endorse or oppose other candidates publicly. The ruling did not apply to judicial candidates who are sitting judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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JAS Says Judicial Elections Reap ‘Bitter Harvest’ in Wisconsin

JAS-LogoA controversy swirling around several Wisconsin Supreme Court justices is the “bitter harvest” of a big-spending system of judicial elections, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned in a statement on Friday.

There is debate in Wisconsin over state Supreme Court justices should hear a case involving a top spender on behalf of several of their campaigns (see Gavel Grab for background), and it illustrates the need for judicial selection reform, Brandenburg said.

“State Supreme Court justices should not have to find themselves in this position.  This is the bitter harvest of a system where wealthy interest groups are spending millions to capture the courts,” Brandenburg said.  “The controversy over whether Wisconsin’s justices can hear a case involving the Club for Growth, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of the campaigns of four current justices, goes to the heart of the current problems plaguing judicial elections. It’s time for states that use these systems to take a serious look at reforms that will minimize the influence of money and politics in judicial selection.” Read more

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Wisconsin Justices Face Questions About Conflict of Interest

Gavel_and_moneyCampaign spending by some groups targeted in a Wisconsin campaign finance investigation is now sparking questions as to whether four state Supreme Court justices ought to recuse from weighing whether state prosecutors can legally renew their probe.  The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports the following:

“Among the groups mentioned in the investigation are three that have spent heavily in court races to elect four of the court’s seven justices. The Wisconsin Club for Growth is estimated to have spent $400,000 for Annette Ziegler in 2007; $507,000 for Michael Gableman in 2008; $520,000 for David Prosser in 2011; and $350,000 for Patience Roggensack in 2013.”

Another group, Citizens for a Strong America, was funded by the Wisconsin Club for Growth and spent about $985,000 in support of Justice Prosser; Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, funded in part by the Club for Growth, “spent an estimated $2.2 million for Ziegler; $1.8 million for Gableman; $1.1 million for Prosser; and $500,000 for Roggensack,” the newspaper said. Read more

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JAS, Partners: TV Ad War Ahead in MI Supreme Court Races?

Will Michigan see another high-spending TV ad war unfold in its Supreme Court races this fall?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004It could easily happen,  as candidates for three seats have already booked nearly $690,000 worth of airtime in TV ad contracts, according to an analysis of publicly available Federal Communications Commission (FCC) files by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. Over $433,000 worth of television ads were booked by one Democratic challenger, Richard Bernstein.

“History may be about to repeat itself in Michigan, which had the most expensive state Supreme Court race in the country in 2012,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg in a statement on Friday.  “For more than a decade, Michigan judges have been pressured to raise growing amounts of money from parties who may appear before them in court.”

“Judicial candidates in Michigan seem to be stockpiling airtime for yet another campaign ad war this cycle,” added Alicia Bannon, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Judges should spend their time deciding cases, not worrying about fundraising.” Read more

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Hot Justice System Topics Emerge in MT High Court Contest

flag_map_of_montana-5555pxIn races for two seats on the Montana Supreme Court,  outside spending in judicial elections (see Gavel Grab) and jury nullification have emerged among candidate concerns or favored topics.

A Montana Public Radio report noted that incumbent Justices Jim Rice and Mike Wheat disagree with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, while challenger Lawrence VanDyke, the former state solicitor general, agrees with it.

Justice Wheat has raised concerns about high outside spending invading judicial elections in Montana, while saying it may be necessary to reconsider whether judicial elections are the best way to choose Montana judges. VanDyke has said, “It costs money to have information in races,” and “I think it’s a huge problem when you start telling people what they can and can’t say.” Read more

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In North Carolina, a ‘New Culture’ for Judicial Elections?

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224There is a “new culture” infusing judicial elections in North Carolina, N.C. Public Radio WUNC reports as the state prepares for Supreme Court elections on Nov. 4 for four contested seats.

When “The State of Things” host Frank Stasio talked on the air with UNC capital reporter Jorge Valencia this week, Stasio summed up some of the changes this way:

“The North Carolina Supreme Court elections are supposed to be above partisan politics, but since 2012, attack ads and funding from outside the state of North Carolina have created a new culture.” Read more

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OH Court Strikes Ethics Provision on Judicial Candidate Speech

Judges and judicial candidates will have more leeway in what they can say when seeking a judgeship, as a result of an Ohio Supreme Court ruling on Wednesday.

The court struck down an ethics rule provision that prohibits judicial candidates from disseminating truthful information that would “nevertheless deceive or mislead a reasonable person.”

“This portion of the rule does not leave room for innocent misstatements or for honest, truthful statements made in good faith but that could deceive some listeners,” Justice Judith Ann Lanzinger wrote for the court majority, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer article. The court let stand a provision that bars judicial candidates from false information about their opponents or the candidates themselves. Read more

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Outside Spending Emerges as Issue in Montana Court Race

montana_supreme_courtOutside spending is becoming a central issue in the upcoming Montana Supreme Court election for two open seats, a debate on Tuesday featuring four candidates suggested.

Incumbent Justice Mike Wheat said, according to the Great Falls Tribune, “I don’t want to let us forget what this race really is all about. It’s about how our court may be under attack from out-of-state money, from out-of-state corporations who want to come into this state and influence who’s going to be on the court.”

Challenger Lawrence VanDyke retorted, “I do believe in free-speech rights of organizations to say what they believe. The issue is whether or not the trial lawyers are going to be the only ones who are spending money.” He said the Montana Trial Lawyers Association is expected to spend “high six digit figures” in support of Justice Wheat. Read more

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Tennessee NAACP Favors Amendment to Change Judicial Selection

The Tennessee Conference of the NAACP has endorsed a proposed constitutional amendment that would change the way appellate judges are chosen.

home_02“We want fair and impartial judges who will protect the rights of all people, not just the special interests with their campaign contributions,” said Gloria Sweet-Love, president of the Tennessee State Conference of the NAACP, according to a press release by a pro-Amendment 2 group that was carried by a Knoxville News Sentinel blog. “We encourage all of our members to support Amendment 2.”

When retired Tennessee Justice George H. Brown, Jr., addressed the  NAACP’s State Convention recently in Nashville, he said, “Amendment 2 will help ensure that we continue to have a judiciary that represents all of Tennessee.” Read more

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