Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Illinois Justice Karmeier Will Take Oath on Dec. 1

After a count of outstanding ballots from Nov. 4, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier gained several hundred “yes” votes in his bid for retention to another term. He won retention and will be sworn in for his new term on Dec. 1, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported. 

In the multimillion-dollar contest, Justice Karmeier needed a 60 percent “yes” vote to be retained. He got “yes” votes adding up to 60.74 percent.

TV ad spending for and against the retention of Justice Karmeier hit $1.7 million, a record for retention elections in Illinois. Campaign for 2016, a group heavily supported by trial lawyers, spent over $1.1 million against his retention, according to a Justice at Stake and Brennan Center for Justice analysis.  The Republican State Leadership Committee, a national political organization, spent over $960,000 on TV advertising and phone banking in support of Karmeier.

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Justice Beasley Prevails in N.C. Supreme Court Recount

A statewide recount requested by challenger Mike Robinson has confirmed that incumbent North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Cheri Beasley won their race on Election Day.

According to a (Raleigh) News & Observer article, Justice Beasley received 5,410 more votes than her rival. He picked up 15 votes in the recount over the first tally.

In the first election cycle since state legislators killed North Carolina’s popular public financing program for judicial campaigns, spending in contests for four seats on the state’s Supreme Court climbed to more than $5.2 million and shattered records this year (see Gavel Grab).

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L.A. Times: Big, Outside Money Changing Judicial Campaigns

law-cash-21816475A “new wave of campaign spending driven by outside political groups and unlimited donations” is changing the way once-sedate judicial campaigns now are conducted, according to a front-page Los Angeles Times article that quotes Justice at Stake.

The newspaper spotlighted not only the setting of spending records in several states’ judicial elections in 2014, as Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported in a recent analysis, but also TV ad spending that reached nearly $14 million overall, up about $2 million from 2010.

The article highlighted nasty attack ads in some states and the largely unsuccessful efforts of a national group, the Republican State Leadership Committee, which spent $4 million to sway judicial races.

Discussing the importance of insulation for judges from the swings of public opinion was Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director. “We expect judges to do things differently,” he said. “The more we ask judges to take off the black robes and put on politicians’ three-piece suits, the greater the risk those politicians will intrude in courtrooms.” Read more

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Oral Arguments Jan. 20 in Judicial Campaign Solicitations Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has set Jan. 20 for oral arguments in a case involving the constitutionality of state bans on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign contributions.

The case is Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar. You can learn more about it from earlier Gavel Grab posts.

When the high court agreed to hear the case, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement: Read more

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The New Yorker Looks at Alabama ‘Double Jeopardy’, Cites JAS

alabamaIn the New Yorker, a lengthy article examines the case of Shonelle Jackson, convicted of committing capital murder at age 18 and condemned to death by an elected judge who overrode a jury’s vote for a life sentence. The article looks at judges’ tough-on-crime campaign statements and high spending in Alabama judicial elections and quotes spending data from a 10-year report co-authored by Justice at Stake.

The article by Paige Williams is headlined, “Double Jeopardy: In Alabama, a judge can override a jury that spares a murderer from the death penalty.” If Jackson’s death sentence is implemented, it states, “he will be the first person to be executed despite a jury’s unanimous vote for life.”

In January, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg had an op-ed in USA Today urging judicial selection reform and citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in a different death sentence by override case from Alabama (see Gavel Grab). “Her fear,” he wrote of Justice Sotomayor, “is that the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and a fair trial could be threatened by campaign pressure on judges who must stand for election.” Read more

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JAS Partner Spotlights ‘Dark Money’ in MI Judicial Election

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a Justice at Stake partner organization, says unreported, unregulated “dark money” bankrolled the majority of costs for TV advertising in Michigan’s 2014 Supreme Court and attorney general campaigns.

iStock_000015670171Small1The Michigan Republican Party spent $4.2 million on ads about Supreme Court candidates “but reported no television advertising to the Michigan Bureau of Elections” due to a loophole in state law, MCFN said in a news release. It said the Center for Individual Freedom, a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) “social welfare” corporation, spent $468,000 for broadcast advertising supportive of the Republican nominees and the advertising was not reported to the Bureau of Elections.

“When such expenditures are not reported, the donors behind the spending are not reported either,” MCFN noted. Read more

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New Mexico Appellate Judge is First Elected With Public Financing

VoteHanisee-posterJudge Miles Hanisee, who won election to the New Mexico Court of Appeals on Nov. 4, has a distinction: He is the first appellate judge elected with public financing since the state launched the program for statewide judicial candidates in 2008.

And for people concerned about money influencing politics, Thomas J. Cole wrote in an Albuquerque Journal column, this “was a patch of high ground in an election flooded with campaign cash from private interests.”

Both Hanisee and his opponent, Kerry Kiernan, obtained public financing under the program. Hanisee already was serving on the Court of Appeals because he was appointed to it by Gov. Susana Martinez. He earlier ran for election to the same court, accepting public financing for his campaign, and was defeated.

“It keeps lawyers’ money out of judicial races,” Hanisee said about public financing. “To me, that is the main thing you are trying to accomplish.”

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In N.C. Supreme Court Race, Recount Has Begun

A recount has begun in an extremely close race for North Carolina Supreme Court seat held by Justice Cheri Beasley. It was requested by attorney Mike Robinson, who challenged Justice Beasley and trails her with 49.89 percent of the statewide vote, compared to 50.11 percent for the incumbent, according to Halifax News Service.

“Recount underway in N.C. Supreme Court race,” reported the Jacksonville Daily News. It said the Board of Elections urged local boards to get the recounts done as quickly as possible so results could be calculated on Nov. 20.

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JAS: Without Reforms, Impartial Justice ‘In Danger of Collapse’

The 2014 GOP “wave” elections brought big changes for executive and legislative offices but “stopped at the courthouse door,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg writes in a post-election analysis distributed by McClatchy Newspapers.

JAS-LogoThe same voters “chose to keep their elected judges from both parties. Americans want courts to be insulated from politics. Interest groups and partisans have other plans — and they’ll be back,” Brandenburg adds. His analysis looks at judicial elections, higher TV ad spending than four years ago and state ballot measures. Brandenburg concludes with a warning:

“Our state courts are under political siege. Our judges are trapped, pressured to raise money and appeal to interest groups on the campaign trail, and then rule on their supporters’ cases in court. Too many interest groups see the third branch of government as a tool to bend to their will. And too many politicians who know better are enabling them.

“The Constitution promises impartial justice. Our nation’s founders built a political culture that erects walls around the courts to keep them free from political pressure. But 21st century politics is tearing down these walls. This year’s wave didn’t flood the courts. But unless we raise new barriers against the growing tide of politics and big money, the very foundation of our judiciary — impartial justice — is in danger of collapse.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: In a version of the op-ed that ran in other papers, the phrase “dark money” was used incorrectly. We regret and have corrected the error.

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Report Urges Reforms for North Carolina Judicial Elections

Center for American ProgressA troubling correlation exists between contributions to North Carolina judicial campaigns by law firms and their success rates appearing before the state’s highest court, says a new report from the Center for American Progress:

“Among the ‘repeat-player’ law firms—those with several cases before the court each year—the firms that gave more campaign cash had higher success rates than those that gave smaller donations. In 1998, the first year of the analysis, law firms donating $400 or more won 53 percent of their cases, compared to 48 percent for firms giving less than $400. The firms that had more than five cases before the court and donated $400 or more won an astonishing 70 percent of their appeals, compared to 33 percent for firms with at least five cases giving less than $400 in donations.”

Read more

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