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Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

TV Ad Spending in Judicial Elections So Far Climbs to $9.1 Million

TV ad spending in state judicial elections has exceeded $9.1 million so far this year, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Friday.

JAS-LogoIn the general elections that will be concluded on Nov. 4,  political parties, outside groups, and judicial candidates have spent more than $6.1 million on TV ads. When coupled with estimates for supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the total is more than $8.8 million.

20100304214046_Brennan_Logo_2007_small (3)With political parties and outside groups accounting for nearly 63 percent of TV ad spending since January, they have dominated judicial election spending this year. In the forefront of TV ad spending in judicial election battleground states is Michigan, with more than $2.9 million spent on TV ads to date, the groups said in a news release. Read more

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Illinois System for Choosing Judges ‘Breaking Down’: JAS

2003_IL_ProofWith independent spending against an Illinois Supreme Court justice rising in his retention election, Justice at Stake called attention to the situation and said, “The system for picking judges in Illinois is breaking down.”

Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 fight against Gordon Maag for the Supreme Court set spending records at the time. Now Justice Karmeier is facing opposition in his retention bid from a group called Campaign for 2016. You can learn about the individuals funding it from earlier Gavel Grab posts.

“Interest groups are trying to buy courts, judges are raising money from parties who appear before them, and potential conflicts of interest are multiplying.  It’s no wonder that the public believes that justice is for sale,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement on Thursday. Read more

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Has ‘New Era of Legalized Influence-Peddling’ Dawned in Courtroom?

Released close to Election Day, a new report that correlates attack ads accusing judges of being “soft-on-crime” and the judges’ decision-making is sparking discussion in the blogosphere.

Esquire’s Politics Blog with Charles P. Pierce devoted a lengthy post to the report by two Emory University Law School professors and the American Constitution Society, saying it “shows quite clearly that, in states where the judges are elected, the same dismal infection that has sickened our politics in the other two branches of government, has set in quite virulently in the third as well.”

Pierce lamented that the report reflects how “the new era of legalized influence-peddling encouraged by Citizens United and by McCutcheon has dawned in the courtroom as well, with easily predicted results.” To document the increasingly important role of outside spending in judicial elections, he relies on a report last year by Justice at Stake and partner organizations. Read more

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JAS: Voters Concerned About Outside Cash in Lower-Court Race

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelNearly three out of four voters in Cole County, Missouri are concerned about outside special interest money pouring into a local race for Circuit Court judge, Justice at Stake announced on Thursday.

And more than two out of three voters in Cole County are concerned that politically charged judicial elections will pressure judges to make decisions based on public opinion, rather than the facts and the law, JAS said in disclosing the results of a poll it commissioned of 579 voters.

According to recent news reports, the Republican State Leadership Committee has injected $200,000 into the race. Cole County Circuit Court is influential throughout the state, having jurisdiction over lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of state statutes or the wording of ballot measures. Cole County is the seat of the state capitol.

“Not surprisingly, Cole County voters grow very suspicious when out of state money is injected into judicial elections,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake in a statement. Read more

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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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