Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

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.

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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

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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

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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

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Florida Bar Seeks High Court Decision on Election Rule

Canons of judicial conduct from two states that limit what judges can do in an election contest are under challenge, according to recent news reports.

The Florida Bar has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a rule barring candidates for a judgeship from personally soliciting campaign contributions, according to a National Law Journal article (available through Google). It is headlined, “Florida Bar Asks Justices to Rule on Judicial Campaigns.”

The article notes that the request to the Supreme Court comes as “judicial elections heat up around the country with record fundraising efforts,” and it cites Justice at Stake as the source of data that more than $263 million was raised in state supreme court elections dating from 2000 through the 2011-12 election cycle. Read more

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Rear Admiral (Ret.) Barnett Joins Justice at Stake’s Board of Directors

Jaime Barnett joins JAS Board

Jamie Barnett joins JAS Board

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Jamie Barnett of Venable LLP, who has more than 30 years experience in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, has joined the Justice at Stake Board of Directors, JAS announced Thursday.

Barnett is Co-Chair of Venable’s Telecommunications Group and a partner in the firm’s Cybersecurity Practice. For nearly 20 years, he has worked as an attorney in private practice.

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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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