Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Michigan Nominees for Supreme Court Are Chosen

Both political parties have nominated their candidates for three seats on the Michigan Supreme Court, kicking off the general election season. One Democratic nominee saw controversy over his endorsement by Right to Life of Michigan in 1996.

Court of Appeals Judge William Murphy was nominated by the state Democrats on Saturday, amid controversy. On Sunday, there was a successful motion to reconsider his nomination, then he prevailed again on a floor vote, according to a MLive.com article.

On Saturday, Judge Murphy said after his nomination, according to another MLive.com article, “Anyone who becomes a judge, you come with your personal background and beliefs.” He added, “But once I put on the robe, my personal or religious beliefs do not control. What controls is the law. I am, have been, and will be a rule of law judge.”

The Democrats also nominated Wayne County Circuit Judge Deborah Thomas and Detroit attorney Richard Bernstein. Republicans nominated incumbent Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra and Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Robert Redford. The candidates for Supreme Court will appear on a non-partisan section of the ballot.

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Big Money Judicial Elections Returning to CA Supreme Court?

An election in 1986 brought sweeping changes to the California Supreme Court in what was compared to “a 100-year flood,” because of its unlikelihood, and now according to At the Lectern, another event may not be so far away.

The article cites The New Politics of Judicial Elections reports co-authored by Justice at Stake and The Brennan Center for Justice detailing how judicial elections across the country have become more expensive and politicized.

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Intrigue, Big Spending in N.C. Judicial Elections is Expected

North_Carolina_quarter,_reverse_side,_2001Given a recent round of “musical chairs” thanks to judges’ retirements, there will be more intrigue around North Carolina judicial elections in November, as well as a likely infusion of campaign money from out-of-state, the Associated Press reported.

Four of seven seats on the state Supreme Court will be contested and three of 15 seats on the state Court of Appeals. In a nonpartisan Supreme Court primary held in May, almost $1 million was spent by outside groups in unsuccessful efforts to unseat incumbent Justice Robin Hudson.

Joe Stewart, executive director of the North Carolina Free Enterprise Foundation, said that based on the May primary, “it’s clear that we will see a lot of outside campaign activity in these judicial races.”

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Ex-Judge Excused From Penning Apology on Photo in Cuffs

joan-orie-melvin_originalThe Pennsylvania Superior Court has upheld the public corruption convictions of former state Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin. While she must apologize to former fellow judges, a requirement that she do so on a photograph of herself in handcuffs goes too far, the Superior Court said.

“The trial court’s use of the handcuffs as a prop is emblematic of the intent to humiliate Orie Melvin in the eyes of her former judicial colleagues,” the Superior Court said, according to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article.

Orie Melvin was sentenced to three years in house arrest and a $55,000 fine. She was convicted by a jury of corruption in campaigns for the state’s highest court. Following her conviction, there was a new round of calls for Pennsylvania to adopt merit-based selection of appeals court judges.

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Ginsburg Warns of Corruption From Money in Judicial Races

ap_ruth_ginsburg_090205_mnSupreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has issued a stern warning about the impact of campaign spending on impartial courts.

In an interview with the National Law Journal, she criticized the court’s “biggest mistake” in the area of its campaign finance jurisprudence, and added, “It should be increasingly clear how [money] is corrupting our system, and it is spreading in states that elect their judges.”

In replies to other questions, she discussed some of the court’s rulings, “a real racial problem” in the United States and other matters. The article began, “The turmoil in Ferguson, Mo., and the controversial stop-and-frisk policy in New York City illustrate a ‘real racial problem’ in America, one that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions have done little to help, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg” told the publication.

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Ramsey: Keep-Politics-Out-of-Courts Message Won in Tennessee

Lt. Gov. Ramsey

Lt. Gov. Ramsey

In Tennessee’s Supreme Court retention election, the chief message of three re-elected justices that politics does not belong in the courtroom clearly prevailed, the politician who spearheaded the opposition said.

“Obviously their message won that we don’t need politics in the courtroom, although we all know there is politics in the courtroom,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said, according to a Kingsport Times-News article. “It was a spirited campaign and both sides had a message out. People chose the other side. I don’t have any problem with that whatsoever.”

Three Democrat-appointed justices were given new terms by voters on Aug. 7 after Ramsey, a Republican, accused them of being soft on crime and anti-business. The well-financed campaign to unseat the justices, which also drew support from out-of-state groups, has drawn postmortems in Tennessee and attention nationally and internationally (see Gavel Grab): Read more

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The Economist, Citing JAS: ‘Electing Judges is a Bad Idea’

Economist cartoon

Economist cartoon

Through the lens of the London-based The Economist, judicial elections in the United States appear downright disturbing. That’s according to a new Economist article that relies on Justice at Stake for data about exploding spending in state judicial elections.

Every year or two The Economist revisits the topic of judicial elections in America. This time it discusses an “unexpectedly political” Tennessee Supreme Court race and a “mudslinging” North Carolina Supreme Court primary. The article’s unnamed author then assails the idea of electing judges:

“Electing judges is a bad idea because judges are not like politicians. It is fine for a politician to make deals with voters; to say, ‘Vote for me and I’ll raise the minimum wage’ or ‘Vote for me and I’ll cut taxes.’ But it is an abuse of power for a judge to promise—or even hint—that he will decide future cases on any basis other than the facts and the law. Standing for election gives judges an incentive to smile on people voters like and get tough on those they hate. That is hardly a recipe for impartiality.” Read more

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Will MI Party Convention See Sparks Over Judge Nomination?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004Will there be political sparks when Michigan Democrats hold a convention this weekend to nominate state Supreme Court candidates, among others? A Detroit News article suggests that possibility.

The “apparent anti-abortion position” of Court of Appeals Chief Judge William Murphy, who wants to serve on the Supreme Court, has generated opposition in Democrats’ pro-abortion rights circles, the newspaper said.

Judge Murphy told the Detroit News about abortion,“I don’t go about expressing my views on this issue or others.” He said, “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me or any other judge to commit to a position on any issue.” In an unsuccessful bid for the high court in 1996, he was endorsed by  Right to Life of Michigan. Read more

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JAS: Poll Finds TN Voters Want to Keep Politics out of Courts

TennesseeA strong majority of Tennesseans who voted on Aug. 7 oppose partisan politics having a role in the courts or in retention (up-or-down) elections for judges, according to a poll commissioned by Justice at Stake and released on Thursday.

Three justices were retained by voters in spite of well-funded efforts to unseat them, by both Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and out-of-state groups such as the Republican State Leadership Committee and Americans for Prosperity. More than $1.4 million was spent on TV advertising.

Eighty-five percent of voters said in responding to a post-election poll that it is “very” or “somewhat” important to keep politics out of the courts, with a full 70 percent calling it “very important.”  Eighty percent said they were “very” or “somewhat” concerned that politically charged retention elections Read more

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Florida Judicial Candidate ‘Recants’ on Signing Group’s Pledge

Peggy Rowe-Linn, a candidate for a judgeship in Palm Beach County, Florida, has “recanted” her signing a pledge to support the positions of Personhood FL ProLife PAC, the Sun-Sentinel reported.

“I am a practicing Catholic and personally pro-life; however, I am and have always been completely tolerant of diverse positions contrary to my own,” the attorney and judicial candidate said. “After careful and thoughtful reflection, I am retracting my affirmation. This is to avoid any mistaken impression concerning my impartiality. My personal beliefs remain unchanged.”

She alone of 300 judicial candidates in Florida had signed the group’s affirmation. She received an endorsement from the group. It was not clear whether she violated any canons of judicial ethics, the newspaper said; you can learn background about the controversy from Gavel Grab.

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