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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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Christian Post Essay: Courts Threatened by Money in Elections

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdIn the Christian Post, described by Wikipedia as an evangelical Christian newspaper, a guest contributor registers concern over the influence of money in politics and says it is threatening our courts too. Nate Kratzer’s essay cites data from Justice at Stake:

“Not only are our politics tilted toward donors who have bankrolled our elections but our independent branch of government, the Courts, are threatened too. According to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12 report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, 87 percent of voters said they believed direct donations to judges’ campaigns and independent spending by outside groups on TV ads had either ‘some’ or ‘a great deal’ of influence on the decisions of judges. The American Constitution Society’s report, Justice at Risk, draws a direct correlation between contributions and judicial decisions, especially in business.” 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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Tennessee Retention Election Sparks Conversation About Process

An editorial in the Washington Post calling for an end to judicial elections is the latest piece to spotlight the recent politicized judicial retention election in Tennessee.

The piece concludes, “The application of due process and the maintenance of Americans’ civil rights should be more isolated from the pressures of majoritarian elections. States with judicial elections — such as Maryland — should adopt a fully appointment-based system to select their judges.”

Read more

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One of Three Retained Judges: ‘Justice is Not for Sale in Tennessee’

judicial-electionAfter voters rejected a vigorous campaign by conservatives to oust three Democratic-appointed Tennessee Supreme Court justices, questions remained about the impact on justice of the unprecedented campaign, the Associated Press reported.

“The influx of campaign cash spent on the three Tennessee Supreme Court elections transformed what is traditionally a sleepy and low-cost affair into a hard-fought campaign. It has also raised a number of ethical questions about partisan politics in the judiciary and campaign contributions from lawyers who may one day have business before the Supreme Court,” the AP said.

“Once you turn judges into politicians in black robes, you are very rapidly moving away from having a justice system at all,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Financial Times for a pre-Election Night article. Read more

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Voters Retain Three Incumbent Justices in Tennessee Election

judges_22677Tennessee voters on Thursday gave three incumbent Supreme Court justices new eight-year terms.  Both sides had spent more than $1.4 million combined on TV advertising, according to Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, in the hard-fought retention election.

“Partisans and special interests opened their checkbooks to send a message of intimidation to courts not just in Tennessee, but across America,” said Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg in a statement. “And to survive, Tennessee’s Supreme Court justices have had to become professional fundraisers, often soliciting money from parties who will appear before them in court.”

“The amount spent attempting to influence this retention election is deeply troubling,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Tennesseans shouldn’t have to worry about outside groups playing politics with their courts every time there is an election.”

Retained were Chief Justice Gary Wade and Justices Cornelia Clark and Sharon Lee. Read more

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National, State Media Watch Today’s Tennessee Court Election

Thursday’s Tennessee Supreme Court retention election is capturing attention both at home and nationally. As news media focused on it, Justice at Stake and a partner organization pointed to concerns about  politicized and high-spending judicial election contests.

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelA Los Angeles Times article spotlighted opposition by a number of national groups to retention of three Tennessee justices who were appointed by a Democratic governor, in an article headlined, “Conservatives nationwide target Tennessee Supreme Court justices.”

Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner group, told the Times, “We see judges or justices being targeted for unpopular and controversial decisions that they make on the bench. And that’s concerning because you want judges to be deciding things on the law and on the Constitution and not on popularity.”

The Times article also noted that the justices have raised more than $1,045,000 to defend themselves, and their efforts “raise many ethical issues because much of their money comes from lawyers, who may at some point find themselves arguing a case in front of the judges.”

On the nationally broadcast The Takeaway hosted by John Hockenberry, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said a lot of judges “feel trapped in a system they didn’t sign up for. They are forced to become professional fund-raisers, and a lot of the public is worried that justice is for sale.”

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Brandenburg Gives Keynote Talk: ‘Judges in a Fish Bowl’

When courts are facing all too frequent attacks, it’s time for those who care to stand up and help educate the public about why fair courts matter for everyone, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said on Wednesday.

jas_logo“The simple fact is that our courts and judges face a rising common culture of attacks on the independence and legitimacy of our judiciary,” Brandenburg said in a keynote address in Boston to the annual meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, whose members enforce legal ethics rules. It was held during the American Bar Association annual meeting. His speech was entitled, “Judges in a Fish Bowl.”

From a “[c]ash has become king” trend in spending on bitterly contested judicial elections, to court-bashing by legislators and executive branch officials and others, Brandenburg warned, “I believe that we are seeing elements of a permanent national campaign against independent courts.”

“But if courts want to remain independent of political pressure, they must have public confidence,” he said. “And in a culture whose norms are becoming more demanding of transparency, and less forgiving Read more

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JAS to Washington Post: Tennessee Courts Are ‘In the Crosshairs’

Sales-Tax-money-gavelA costly ad war preceding Tennessee’s Supreme Court retention election reflects “a continuation of what advocates describe as a troubling national trend of increasingly politicized judicial campaigns,” reported a Washington Post blog, quoting Justice at Stake.

Three incumbent justices are seeking new eight-year terms in tomorrow’s election, and spending by both sides in the ad war has exceeded $1 million. “Tennessee’s being put on notice that their courts, like those of many other states, are now officially in the crosshairs of groups who view courts as one more investment,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Post.

A Republican-led effort to unseat the three justices in the retention election, in which they face no challengers, has drawn support from outside groups in the state and nationally (see Gavel Grab). The justices,  named by a Democratic governor, have campaigned vigorously and raised campaign money.

Tennessee’s unprecedented spending in advance of its judicial election “is part of a pattern that’s been popping up around the country for a number of years now and 2000 was the year it really exploded,” Brandenburg said. Read more

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