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Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

Washington Post Editorial: End Judicial Elections Now

citizens-united“[T]he courtroom is becoming the next frontier in rancorous political division” in the era of Citizens United, and the best answer for addressing the threat to impartial justice is to eliminate judicial elections entirely, a Washington Post editorial declares.

The editorial builds its case by citing both recent history and more recent developments. Linking to a report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, it prominently notes that in the past judicial election cycle, outside groups spent a record $24 million on state judicial elections.

Touching on this year’s judicial elections, it focuses on the high-spending Republican State Leadership Committee, which has discussed spending $5 million on judicial contests to advance conservative candidates, and on the battleground states the RSLC has engaged in or targeted. Read more

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‘Back to the Wild West,’ Campaigning N.C. Justice Says

Justice Hudson

Justice Hudson

After North Carolina’s legislature repealed last year the state’s public financing program for judicial campaigns, “We’re kind of back to the Wild West,” said an incumbent justice seeking reelection. The National Journal article that features her concerns zeroes in on judicial candidates forced to become more like partisan politicians, and it quotes Justice at Stake.

“I’ve basically got two full-time jobs: A full-time job running a campaign. And a full-time job on the court. I’ve had to spend time on the phone when I can,” raising money, incumbent Justice Robin Hudson told National Journal for its vividly detailed article. “It’s awful.” She was the justice who made the “Wild West” remark.

Another dimension of big-spending judicial elections is a question of partiality that can arise when a judicial campaign accepts money from lawyers or law firms who later may appear before the judge. Reporter James Oliphant notes that at a multi-candidate forum, candidate and incumbent Justice Robert Hunter asked for both votes and financial support and added, “I look forward to seeing you in court.”

“At every turn,” the article states, “the candidates have encountered hand-wringing over money and influence. They insist they’re judges and lawyers first, pols second. But they’ve been dragged into a system that, across the country, increasingly blurs those lines. ‘We want judges to be different, but we’ve thrown them into this political blender where they’re just like any politician,’ says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake.” Read more

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Six-Figure Sum to Oust Local Judge: Who’s the Real Source?

Money in handWhen six-figure sums suddenly flow from Washington, D.C. into a once-obscure lower-court judicial race, journalists and others typically begin hunting for the source.

That’s exactly what a Talking Points Memo blog post undertakes regarding $200,000 pumped into a Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court contest by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national partisan organization (see Gavel Grab) backing a Republican candidate seeking to defeat a Democratic incumbent. The TPM post also quotes Justice at Stake about the unusual race. Read more

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National Group Backs Local Court Candidate; JAS Voices Concern

MO_20203The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee has now funneled $200,000 into Missouri to support a Republican candidate seeking a judgeship in Cole County. Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned about the implications of such spending:

“When political groups try to buy up courts like real estate, they’re pressuring judges to answer to politicians instead of the law and the Constitution. And when even local courts aren’t safe from big money pressure, every American should worry that their liberties could be for sale.”

The Republican State Leadership Committee’s Missouri PAC earlier gave $100,000 to the campaign of Brian Stumpe (see Gavel Grab), who is challenging Democratic incumbent Judge Pat Joyce for the Cole County Circuit Court. It is the court of jurisdiction for lawsuits against the State of Missouri over such issues as constitutionality and ballot measures. Read more

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Wall Street Journal: New Spending Changes Judicial Campaigns

WSJ-Logo-1399551398The Washington, D.C.-based Republican State Leadership Committee is plunging into state judicial elections with heavy spending this year, spurring “judges to get more involved in their campaigns” as they seek reelection, reports a lengthy Wall Street Journal article (available through Google) that quotes Justice at Stake.

“The effort to influence judicial elections is largely Republican—for now, no Democratic group is systematically contributing to such races,” the Journal says. It adds, “The money pouring in from out-of-state groups is upsetting genteel traditions under which judges in some states faced little opposition and avoided the ethically tricky process of soliciting big money and stumping for votes from constituents they might face in court. The attention is an acknowledgment of the role that state supreme courts play in shaping the business climate and social and government policies.”

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the newspaper that spending on judicial races has been building since the 1990s and has accelerated since the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010. “There were contested elections before 2000, but generally there was not an attempt to really jam in big money,” he  said. “That’s in the process of changing. We don’t know how much.” Read more

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‘Arms Race’ for Judicial Election Spending in Michigan: JAS

gavel_cash_20121102165220_320_240Michigan is shaping up as a major battleground for three contested seats on its state Supreme Court. Spending on TV advertising airtime has climbed to $1.2 million, as the state GOP began airing an ad promoting its nominees, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported.

The sums spent on TV advertising so far are the highest for any state supreme court election, the groups said in a joint statement on Friday. Judicial candidates have spent nearly $990,000, and the state GOP TV ad campaign has cost an estimated $244,720.

“It’s troubling that spending in Michigan’s Supreme Court race is again on track to reach astronomical proportions,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “Michigan has become a national symbol of an arms race that is putting pressure on judges to answer to political pressure instead of the law and the constitution.” Read more

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Editorial: Get Money Out of State High Court Races

michigan supreme corut

“Justices should be appointed by the governor from a list of candidates proposed by a blue-ribbon, non-partisan committee and then face confirmation by public vote,” opines an editorial on the Holland (Michigan) Sentinel.

The editorial revisits the problems in the current method of electing Michigan Supreme Court justices: campaign fundraising, partisanship, and “dark money,” coming from undisclosed contributors.

Michigan had the most costly state Supreme Court race of 2012, with campaign donations totaling $3.4 million and “dark money” spending that totaled $13.85 million. So far this year, the spending has been much less; candidates had spent $690,000 by the end of September to book TV ad time, the editorial says in relying on Justice at Stake data.

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JAS: Montana Court Race Part of ‘Explosion’ of Outside Spending

Two outside groups — including a national Republican group — have begun airing TV ads in Montana’s Supreme Court election. Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization, said the Montana expenditures are part of soaring out-of-state spending in judicial elections.

JAS-Logo“The appearance of outside spending opens a new chapter in Montana’s Supreme Court race, especially as it includes a national group airing its first TV ads in this fall’s state Supreme Court elections,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg in a statement. “Montana is the fourth state this year to be caught up in the explosion of spending by out-of-state groups in judicial races.”

20100304214046_Brennan_Logo_2007_small (3)“The flood of special interest spending in state judicial elections is truly alarming,” added Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center. “When outside groups spend money to reshape state courts, everyone loses. Judges are forced to compete with deep-pocketed special interest groups. Montanans who appear before the court have to worry whether a judge is being influenced by special interest dollars. We need to keep politics out of our courts.” Read more

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N.C. Court Candidates Drop $1 Million on TV Ad Time

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelA barrage of TV ads may be coming in contests for four North Carolina Supreme Court seats. Five of the candidates have booked more than $1 million worth of TV airtime for ads, according to an analysis by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a joint statement with other nonpartisan reform groups on Tuesday, “Judges and justices follow a calling to serve on the bench so they can defend the law and our system of justice, not stump like politicians. They don’t like it, the public doesn’t like it, and something has to be done to insulate judges from campaign trail pressure.”

“Without a public financing system, judges are forced to fundraise from the business interests and lawyers who have a direct stake in the way these judges rule,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center. “And that’s time and energy judges could be spending deciding cases.” Read more

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Will High Court Case Stoke Broad Debate on Electing Judges?

Sandra_O'ConnorIn agreeing to decide whether states where judges are elected may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign cash (see Gavel Grab), has the U.S. Supreme Court fueled broader debate about judicial elections overall?

“[Campaign contributions] impact the extent to which citizens believe that judicial decisions are based on the law rather than other factors, such as to whom a judge might feel beholden,” a Mother Jones article quoted retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as saying this summer. “In my mind, judicial campaign support—whether it involves direct contributions or independent spending—automatically creates an appearance of impropriety when supporters are involved in court cases.”

Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake, and the article drew on JAS data in reporting that since 2000, a total of 20 states have surpassed their prior records for judicial election spending. The article was headlined, “Supreme Court To Decide if Judges in 30 States Can Solicit Campaign Cash.”

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