Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category
Incumbent Justice Jim Rice is seeking re-election and will face a challenge from attorney W. David Herbert. The challenger earlier ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Wyoming as a Libertarian candidate. Justice Rice is a former Republican state representative.
Incumbent Justice Mike Wheat, also seeking re-election, will be challenged by Lawrence VanDyke, the Montana solicitor general. Justice Wheat is a former Democratic state senator. VanDyke was appointed to his current post by Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican. Read more
Duke Energy, a utility with a strong interest in decisions made by North Carolina courts, gave $175,000 in 2012 to a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC that ultimately had a significant spending role in the North Carolina Supreme Court election that year.
A report by the Institute for Southern Studies spotlighted the contribution by Duke Energy, which recently has attracted extensive news media coverage for its large coal ash spill in North Carolina. Duke Energy gave the money to the Republican State Leadership Committee; and the RSLC gave $1.1 million to the Justice for All super PAC, based in North Carolina, which in turn poured $1.5 million to benefit incumbent Justice Paul Newby in his contest with Judge Sam Ervin IV.
That North Carolina election saw soaring outside spending, and the new report says, “While it’s impossible to know if Duke Energy’s contributions to the RSLC were earmarked to support the D.C. group’s significant Read more
In a Republican primary for the Texas Supreme Court on Tuesday, three incumbents easily won their party’s nomination and a fourth faced no challenge. The incumbents are Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, seeking the same seat, and Justices Jeff Brown and Phil Johnson, who defeated their challengers, and Jeffrey Boyd, who was unopposed.
In a Democratic primary for the court, three Democrats faced no competition and will stand in November’s general election, according to the Associated Press. They are Bill Moody, Larry Meyers and Gina Benavides. The Texas Tribune said the Republican nominees will have an advantage in November; not since 1994 has a Democrat won statewide election in Texas.
You can learn background about the Republican primary by clicking here for Gavel Grab. Some Texas Democrats worked to support Republican challengers, in order to oust Republican Supreme Court incumbents, in that primary. “It shows how much more ‘politics as usual’ are spilling into races for courts,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director (see Gavel Grab).
As 2014 judicial campaigns rev up in some states, a Huffington Post article recaps soaring independent spending in judicial elections, and it relies on a 2013 report co-authored by Justice at Stake.
Independent expenditures (by non-candidate entities) added up to 22 percent of total judicial election spending in 2008, compared to 43 percent in 2012, according to the study, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012.”
The article also discusses spending and advertising in a Democratic primary contest for a 113th District Court seat in Texas. The political action Read more
The death of public financing for judicial elections in North Carolina means more judges “are thrown out there with their tin cups” to appeal for campaign support from lawyers who appear before them, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a video interview.
Brandenburg was highlighting states that defenders of fair and impartial courts may want to watch as judicial elections unfold in upcoming months. In North Carolina, where the philosophical balance of the court will be at stake, “You could see interest groups pouring in big money,” he added. “This is their big chance — they are unlikely to pass it up.”
In Texas, Brandenburg said, some Democrats have been accused of trying to infiltrate a Republican primary for the state Supreme Court. “It shows how much more ‘politics as usual’ are spilling into races for courts,” he said. He also mentioned Illinois, where a retention (up-or-down) election bid by incumbent Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier could turn costly if Justice Karmeier chooses to run for another term.
To learn more about states where big spending and partisan politics in judicial elections could erode public confidence in fair courts, learn more from Gavel Grab by clicking here for North Carolina, here for Texas and here for Illinois.
As this year’s election for the North Carolina Supreme Court begins warming up, more editorial boards are speaking out to mourn the legislature’s killing the state’s pioneering public financing program for judicial elections. A recent study found that the program had a “powerful impact” (see Gavel Grab) while it was operative.
A Rocky Mount Telegram editorial said, “Public financing for judicial contests offered a bit of sensibility in the face of mudslinging. Now, it appears, that breath of sanity is gone as well.”
A Wilmington Star-News editorial said it was a good program, now gone: “But the Honorables decided instead to return to the old system, in which judicial candidates solicit donations from private donors, many of whom have a vested interest in court decisions. Honest judges are not influenced by such donations, at least not consciously, but even the appearance of a conflict of interest can taint public perception of an important judicial ruling.” Read more
When three of five Tennessee Supreme Court justices stand for retention in August, their futures could be affected by voters’ response to controversial cases the court has decided, a Tennessee Watchdog article says.
Only one Tennessee Supreme Court justice, Penny White, has been removed from the bench through a retention election under the state’s existing merit selection system. She was ousted by voters in 1996, following a controversial high court ruling that spared a convicted rapist-murderer the death penalty.
The article says that this year, a high court ruling in the murder of an elderly woman during a robbery attempt could spark controversy for the justices; a defendant who was convicted in the killing escaped the death penalty. The court vacated a death sentence in the defendant’s case, pointing to an “appearance of impropriety and unfair lack of impartiality” by the judge who had sentenced the defendant to death.
“There’s no question that controversial cases will be a factor in this year’s judicial races,” said Wes Anderson, a GOP pollster. “It all comes down to case history, and in my review, these are the kinds of cases that can blow up an election.”
“The restraints are off” when it comes to fundraising for North Carolina Supreme Court elections this year, a Greensboro News & Record editorial warns, and that means wealthy contributors and special-interest groups that fund a judge’s election may see their cases decided by the same jurist.
The editorial laments the legislature’s killing North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial races and its raising donation limits. “Now that individuals can give 10 times as much, candidates may raise and spend more money, and the potential for undue influence is multiplied,” the editorial says.
Instead, the editorial favors an alternative system for selecting judges, including a nonpartisan commission that screens qualified candidates, appointment by the governor and retention (up-or-down) elections if a judge seeks another term. The editorial concludes:
“An appointment system would not eliminate politics. But elections favor politicians, not necessarily people who would make the best judges. Throw in unlimited amounts of money and the risk of bad outcomes is too high.”
Around Texas, there is increasing news media interest in the upcoming March 4 Republican primary to choose nominees for the Texas Supreme Court. Three incumbent justices are on the ballot.
A Southeast Texas Record article about the proliferation of signs promoting judicial candidates was headlined, “Judicial elections dominate campaign season.”
In a San Antonio Express News op-ed, former Chief Justice Tom Phillips commented on the fact that some Texas Democrats are working to support Republican challengers, in order to oust Republican Supreme Court incumbents, in the GOP primary (see Gavel Grab). The essay was entitled, “Strange Players in GOP High Court Races.” Read more
“I don’t think we could have a worse way to select judges than in partisan elections,” former presiding Judge Scott Vowell of Alabama’s Jefferson County Circuit Court said as he was retiring from the bench in 2013, according to an Al.com blog.
And as Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent last fall that elected Alabama judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in overruling juries to impose death sentences in capital cases.
To show another side to the debate about the best way to choose judges, the blog quoted from a paper published on The Federalist Society website, written by several lawyers and law professors. The paper said that “the public in states which elect judges will be better able to rein in the judiciary and block the continued deterioration of the civil justice system.” Read more