Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Nonpartisan Judicial Elections are Debated in West Virginia

West_Virginia_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005West Virginia’s House Judiciary Committee has heard debate for and against a proposal to switch from partisan to nonpartisan judicial elections (see Gavel Grab), according to the Charleston Daily Mail.

“I really believe the judiciary should be above partisan politics,” said Speaker Tim Armstead, a Republican. “It should be viewed as, and in reality be, the one branch where people feel like they can go regardless of their views, their opinions and their partisan beliefs and know they’re going to be treated fairly.”

Anthony Majestro, president of the West Virginia Association for Justice, took issue with the bill. “Party identification provides some information to voters on where a candidate may stand on particular issues that would be unavailable to voters otherwise,” he said.

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West Virginia Weighs Nonpartisan Judicial Elections

West Virginia legislators will soon debate a measure to make all judicial elections nonpartisan, according to a Herald-Dispatch article.

Senate Bill 10, which would remove party affiliation from judicial nominees, was advanced by Republican leadership as an attempt to clean up the state’s tarnished judicial image. “If enacted,” the article reports, “the bill would require all magistrate and circuit court elections to be nonpartisan starting in 2016. Elections for the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals would be nonpartisan for the single seat available in 2016, and nonpartisan for every race after that, including two seats that will be up for election in 2020, and two seats in 2024.”

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Keeping Up With Justice Karmeier: Election Anatomy, and Update

KARMEIERFor defenders of fair and impartial courts, the 2004 and 2014 elections of Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier provide one of the most intriguing ongoing stories around. Now there are two new reports of interest,  an anatomy of the 2014 election and a court update about his antagonists’ effort to depose him.

The lengthy analysis of the 2014 retention election, which Justice Karmeier won narrowly after facing a late-hour opposition drive, is available at It is entitled, “Supreme Tort: The Campaign To Fire Justice Lloyd Karmeier.” This week’s courthouse news article comes from the Madison-St. Clair Record and is headlined, “Plaintiffs in Hale v. State Farm cannot depose Karmeier; Magistrate: ‘such examinations would disturb integrity of judiciary.'” Read more

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Editorial: ‘Justice May Be Blind, But It Can Still Wink’

001_170-221x300Tuesday’s Supreme Court oral argument in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar case (see Gavel Grab for background) has highlighted the problem with judicial elections, according to two recent editorials.

A Bloomberg View editorial appearing in the Chicago Tribune points out that judges being able to ask for money even indirectly is bad for the judiciary.

“This charade may well be constitutional,… But it is also absurd. Unlike legislators and executives, who are elected to advocate for a cause or constituency, judges are supposed to answer only to the law. As long as states elect rather than appoint judges, campaign contributions — no matter who does the asking — will allow interested parties to curry influence.” Read more

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Report Sees ‘Murky’ Money Trail to Illinois Supreme Court

Just how “murky” is the money trail to a seat on the Illinois Supreme Court? A Crain’s Chicago Business article poses the question. In this case of a high-spending judicial retention election, you have to read the article’s details to find out:

“The parent company of Philip Morris USA contributed a total of $500,000 on Oct. 6 and 8 to a Republican Party group, a few weeks after the Illinois Supreme Court agreed to hear the tobacco company’s appeal of a $10.1 billion verdict. About two weeks later, the Republican State Leadership Committee put $950,000 into independent campaign ads supporting the retention of Lloyd Karmeier, a Republican Illinois Supreme Court justice.”

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Pariente, Jefferson: ‘Alarmed’ by Citizens United Fallout

Jefferson_Justice_Wallace_2008_pariente0807The legacy of Citizens United for elected state courts is damaging, former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente write in a Dallas Morning News op-ed.

“Although we were appointed to our states’ high courts by governors of opposing parties, we share a bipartisan concern: On the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, we are alarmed about the surge in interest group spending to influence state judicial elections. This has helped fuel a perception that justice is for sale, which undermines the public’s trust in impartial courts,” they assert.

Justice Jefferson was appointed initially by a Republican governor and Justice Pariente by a Democratic governor. Each has also run for the bench in elections. Their op-ed discusses specific examples of interest group spending to sway judicial elections and overall trends, and it concludes: Read more

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Wisconsin Judge Criticizes Proposed Constitutional Amendment

Justice Walsh Bradley

Justice Walsh Bradley

A proposed constitutional amendment, to change the way the Wisconsin Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected, is advancing in the legislature. It drew public criticism from Justice Ann Walsh Bradley.

The proposal would have a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law. It was approved by the legislature in 2013 and must get approval a second time, unamended, before it would be placed on the ballot. Legislative committees with jurisdiction have recently approved the measure.

“The constitution, in my mind, is a sacred document,” Justice Walsh Bradley said on a Sunday TV show. “This isn’t what constitutional amendments are for. They’re not for being used as a tool to settle political scores. If you don’t agree with the referee, the answer is not throwing out the rule book.” She labeled the move as one directed at Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, according to The Capital Times. Read more

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Pennsylvania’s Unprecedented Supreme Court Election

Pennsylvania is drawing attention as at least 16 well-connected state actors begin to vie for three Supreme Court seats, the most vacancies since the court’s inception in the 18th century.

An extensive piece on describes the political atmosphere as the candidates – including a union leader, wife of a former state Senate President, and a handful of Superior Court judges – try to differentiate themselves from the pack. That task is bound to pose issues, because state ethics rules prohibit the candidates from making campaign promises or commenting on issues likely to come before the court.

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JAS at D.C. Forum: Democracy Reform ‘Is a Three-Branch Issue’

(From left to right), Greg Moore, Bert Brandenburg, Caroline Fredrickson, Jo-Ann Wallace, Courtney Hight, Kristine Kippins

“Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United

At a time of surging interest group spending to elect state judges, and with state courts issuing rulings that touch nearly every American’s life, it’s more important than ever to keep our courts fair and impartial.

That was the central theme to emerge from a forum of advocates and legal experts convened by Justice at Stake, the American Constitution Society, and the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Occurring shortly before the 5th anniversary of the the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, it was entitled, “Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United.”

Advocates and experts zeroed in on the vast impact of state courts issuing rulings on everything from voting laws to the environment to reproductive rights to death penalty cases, and they emphasized both the heightened threats to impartial courts when interest group spending rises, and a public perception that elected courts may be up for sale to the highest bidder. Read more

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Ex-Judge Pleads Guilty to Bribery Count in Contributions Case

1372349497-maggioEx-trial judge Michael Maggio of Arkansas has pleaded guilty to a federal charge of bribery lodged in connection with  a campaign contribution to his then-campaign for the state Court of Appeals.

According to the Arkansas Gazette, Maggio acknowledged “he accepted a bribe in the form of a campaign contribution in exchange for reducing a jury’s negligence verdict against a Conway business.” At sentencing, he could receive up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

Last year, the newspaper said in summing up the case, “[Q]uestions arose about contributions Maggio’s campaign accepted from several political action committees financed largely by businessman and nursing-home owner Michael Morton. … Days after some of those donations were made, Maggio reduced a jury-awarded $5.2 million judgment against one of Morton’s nursing homes to $1 million.” Read more

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