Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

JAS Featured in Fair-Courts Coverage, Including NY Times

As judicial elections — and in many cases, related spending — heat up around the country, how can fair and impartial courts be protected? From the New York Times to smaller news outlets, reporters exploring this issue cited Justice at Stake in articles over the past days.

JAS-Logo“Judicial campaign cash is burning a hole in the Constitution,” Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, told the Times. “You cannot pour millions of dollars into our courtrooms without having an effect.” The newspaper’s article by Adam Liptak relied on data provided by JAS that the last three election cycles have included $152 million spent on judicial races.

More sanguine about judicial elections and spending was lawyer James Bopp Jr., attorney and architect of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case, who told the newspaper, “There is no perfect system.” Bopp added,“The balance is between the need for judicial independence to faithfully follow the law and to be held accountable if they do not follow their function and become activist.”

The Times focused on a request before the Supreme Court to take up a case from Florida, asking whether judicial candidates may personally solicit campaign donations. The issue has divided federal appeals courts that ruled upon it. Thirty states where judges are elected ban this kind of personal Read more

No comments

JAS Says Judicial Elections Reap ‘Bitter Harvest’ in Wisconsin

JAS-LogoA controversy swirling around several Wisconsin Supreme Court justices is the “bitter harvest” of a big-spending system of judicial elections, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned in a statement on Friday.

There is debate in Wisconsin over state Supreme Court justices should hear a case involving a top spender on behalf of several of their campaigns (see Gavel Grab for background), and it illustrates the need for judicial selection reform, Brandenburg said.

“State Supreme Court justices should not have to find themselves in this position.  This is the bitter harvest of a system where wealthy interest groups are spending millions to capture the courts,” Brandenburg said.  “The controversy over whether Wisconsin’s justices can hear a case involving the Club for Growth, which has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on behalf of the campaigns of four current justices, goes to the heart of the current problems plaguing judicial elections. It’s time for states that use these systems to take a serious look at reforms that will minimize the influence of money and politics in judicial selection.” Read more

No comments

JAS, Partners: TV Ad War Ahead in MI Supreme Court Races?

Will Michigan see another high-spending TV ad war unfold in its Supreme Court races this fall?

Michigan_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004It could easily happen,  as candidates for three seats have already booked nearly $690,000 worth of airtime in TV ad contracts, according to an analysis of publicly available Federal Communications Commission (FCC) files by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. Over $433,000 worth of television ads were booked by one Democratic challenger, Richard Bernstein.

“History may be about to repeat itself in Michigan, which had the most expensive state Supreme Court race in the country in 2012,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg in a statement on Friday.  “For more than a decade, Michigan judges have been pressured to raise growing amounts of money from parties who may appear before them in court.”

“Judicial candidates in Michigan seem to be stockpiling airtime for yet another campaign ad war this cycle,” added Alicia Bannon, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Arms race spending has no place in a supreme court election. Judges should spend their time deciding cases, not worrying about fundraising.” Read more

No comments

JAS: TV Ad Buys Climb in N.C. Supreme Court Contest

Darvocet-Stack-of-Cash-GavelWith Election Day less than six weeks off, TV advertising buys adding up to nearly $710,000 have already been booked in four contested races for the North Carolina Supreme Court, three nonpartisan reform groups said on Wednesday after examining public records.

Actual, documented spending already has reached almost $3.3 million in  in North Carolina’s nonpartisan high-court primary and general election, the groups said. Spending in the 2012 state high-court race cost a record $4.5 million.

“Since big-money ad campaigns usually leave little room for the truth, they threaten to politicize the courts and confirm voters’ fears that justice is for sale,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, in a joint statement by the groups. Read more

No comments

JAS Quoted: ‘Multifront War to Politicize the Bench’ in North Carolina

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224Judicial elections in North Carolina are not only increasingly falling “prey to big money,” but state courts are under attack on other fronts, reports an IndyWeek commentary that concludes by citing Justice at Stake.

“There is a multifront war to politicize the bench,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenberg told the Raleigh-area based publication. “We’re seeing it play out in a number of different ways.”

The commentary tracks partisan and special interest group spending on state Supreme Court elections as well as measures passed in the Republican-controlled legislature to eliminate North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections, to restrict public disclosure of information about Read more

No comments

Ex-Justice Warns: Don’t Put Montana Judges on ‘Auction Block’

Retired Justice Nelson

Retired Justice Nelson

“Montana’s judiciary must not be forced onto the auction block,” retired state Supreme Court Justice James Nelson writes in an outspoken Montana Standard op-ed. Signing the opinion with him were retired Justices Terry Trieweiler, Jim Regnier, Bill Leaphart, Bill Hunt and John (Skeff) Sheehy.

Tracing special interest and partisan spending in recent supreme court elections held in other states, and the pouring of “dark money” into judicial elections in the wake of Citizens United, Justice Nelson says the same trends could affect Montana judicial elections and have a frightening impact.

“No Montanan wants to litigate in a court where the fix is in because the judge or justice is beholden to those who spent him or her onto the bench,” he writes. “Montanans deserve fair, impartial, independent and non-partisan judges and justices elected by Montana voters—not political hacks, bought and paid for by out of state dark money. Our civil justice system is at stake.” Read more

No comments

JAS Report on Judicial Election Spending is Featured

A report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, two nonpartisan reform organizations, about judicial election spending so far in 2014 grabbed national exposure when it was carried by Legal Newsline. 

jas_logoAlready this year, more than $3.1 million has been spent on TV ads in state supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the groups said last week. Three states with off-cycle elections (Tennessee, Idaho, and Arkansas) saw greater spending than in their prior election cycles, while North Carolina saw record spending in its primary (more than $1.3 million).

In November, contested elections will be held for supreme courts in eight states and retention (up-or-down) elections will be held in 14 states. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.

No comments

JAS, Partner: Special Interests Take Aim at Reshaping Courts

When state high court judges and candidates face voters this fall, special interest groups are expected to flood the contests with spending in an effort to reshape the courts, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice warned on Thursday.

JAS-LogoAlready this year, more than $3.1 million has been spent on TV ads in state supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the groups said in a statement.  Three states with off-cycle elections (Tennessee, Idaho, and Arkansas) saw greater spending than in their prior election cycles, while North Carolina saw record spending in its primary (more than $1.3 million).

“The warning signs are there: more special interest campaigns are on the way to capture courts and pressure judges,” said JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. “It’s time to start looking seriously at solutions that would reduce political pressure on our courts, put quality first and keep judges from raising money from parties who appear before them.” Read more

No comments

In Alabama, a Break From High-Spending Court Races?

2003_AL_ProofWhile high-spending judicial elections in Alabama have marked some of the most recent election cycles, observers should not expect a costly race this year, the Associated Press reports. It cites Justice at Stake for past election spending data.

The AP notes about 2014 that “The only Supreme Court justice up for election, Republican Greg Shaw, drew no opposition because plaintiff lawyers took a pass on the race.”

In 2012, an election for chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court resulted in the highest fundraising sum by court candidates in the nation, of more than $4 million. That’s according to The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12, a report compiled by JAS and partner organizations. Read more

No comments

Does Electing Judges Taint the Judicial System?

Bert Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg

Record-breaking judicial races and judges who have to write opinions at night because they’re too busy fundraising during the day… Is this what the American justice system has become?

Justice at Stake executive director Bert Brandenburg looks at the effects electing judges has in a piece for Politico titled, Justice for Sale – How elected judges became a threat to American Democracy.

“Justice [Cheri] Beasley and too many of her colleagues are trapped in the fastest growing, most overlooked trend in American politics — a deluge of money flooding into state Supreme Court elections. Since 2000, Read more

No comments

Next Page »