Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

Article Names Efforts to Revise Judicial Selection, ‘Stack Courts’

Groups in some states are working to cement policy gains by taking stances on the way judges are selected, reports an online publication devoted to sexual and reproductive health and justice issues. The article quotes Justice at Stake about special interests’ seeking to influence judicial elections.

“Anti-Choice Groups Seek to Stack State Courts,” declares the RH Reality Check headline. It spotlights efforts to dump merit selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices and give the governor direct appointive authority; and against replacing elections with merit selection of judges in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

“Special interest groups of many stripes have known for years now that judicial elections can provide an opening for political influence and spending that they believe will advance their agendas,” said Laurie Kinney, JAS director of communications and public education. Read more

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NY Times Blog: Elected Judges to Get ‘Intimidating Message’?

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

In the New York Times, a member of the editorial board voices dismay over increasingly expensive, politicized state judicial elections. The essay says  Tennessee’s Supreme Court retention election Aug. 7 has big implications.

Dorothy J. Samuels’ commentary appears in the blog of the Times editorial page editor and is headlined, “If Judges Campaign Like Ordinary Politicians, Can We Have Impartial Courts?”

Taking note of a costly North Carolina Supreme Court primary in May and the current run-up to the Tennessee  election, which now is in the thick of an air war (see Gavel Grab), Samuels laments what is becoming all too common: “Another election season, another round of expensive state judicial elections destined to undermine the core American principle of fair and impartial courts.”

It’s evident since three Iowa Supreme Court justices were unseated in 2010 over a controversial marriage ruling that state judges who come under attack must fight back, she writes. “But no one should feel good about judges having to grovel for money and campaign like ordinary politicians.” Read more

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JAS: Will AFP ‘Transform Judicial Politics in the United States’?

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

The air wars have begun in earnest over Tennessee’s Aug. 7 Supreme Court election. Justice at Stake said the engagement of one outside group, Americans for Prosperity, has the potential to “transform judicial politics in the United States.”

Out-of-state groups spending to unseat three  Supreme Court justices now include the Koch brothers-linked AFP, the Republican State Leadership Committee (which distributed fliers) and the State Government Leadership Foundation, a RSLC partner group,  said JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice.

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice.  But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement.  “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that Read more

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JAS: Tennessee’s Turn for ‘Bare-Knuckle’ Court Campaign

Image from new Tennessee Forum ad

Image from new Tennessee Forum ad

As advertising ramps up in the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice voiced concerns on Monday about the impact on impartial courts.

A new TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum states that ”The most liberal place in Tennessee … is the Tennessee Supreme Court,” and a headline adds, “Our Supreme Court Liberal on Crime,” according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“Bare-knuckle Supreme Court campaigns have been spreading around the country, and now it’s Tennessee’s turn,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, in a statement.

“The new ad is right out of the usual playbook, accusing judges of being soft on crime. As spending accelerates on both sides, yet another state court is being pressured to raise big money and answer to interest groups and politicians,” he added. Justice at Stake also reported on TV ad time purchases by the Tennessee Forum (at least $119,055) and the justices’ campaigns (at least $201,495). Read more

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In New Era, Brandenburg Fears ‘Politics Without Accountability’

Bert Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg

It’s a risk for our democracy when the newspaper business is in decline, there are far fewer reporters covering state capitols and outside political spending is booming, a Daily Beast article suggests while quoting Justice at Stake.

When rising outside money is combined with diminished press coverage, it “adds up to an increased risk that democracy operates secretly in plain sight,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told the Daily Beast. He also chairs the board of the National Institute on Money and State Politics, a JAS partner organization.

People have more tools to access information in the Internet era, “But information doesn’t transmit itself,” said Brandenburg, who served as spokesman for Attorney General Janet Reno. “There’s never a replacement for a paid nose to sniff things out.” Read more

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JAS Quoted in Praising O’Connor Judicial Selection Model

JAS-LogoJustice at Stake views a model judicial selection plan developed by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as valuable for removing special interest influence from the courts, reported a national legal news publication.

“Justice O’Connor has advocated tirelessly for fair and impartial courts, and is renowned for her leadership role in this area,” said Liz Seaton, deputy executive director of Justice at Stake, according to the Legal Newsline article. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

“We are extremely proud that today, she and our partner group, IAALS, have released a plan that seeks to improve the U.S. justice system. We applaud this latest, outstanding achievement in a distinguished career and encourage everyone to read it.” IAALS refers to the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS Files Brief on Campaign Contribution Limits Issue

JAS-LogoJustice at Stake submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on Tuesday, contending that a trial court order striking down campaign contribution limits threatens fair and impartial courts in Montana.

JAS urged the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse an order of the U.S. District Court striking down the Montana limits in 2012. Its brief maintains that the lower court misapplied relevant Supreme Court precedent and defied the settled law of the Ninth Circuit.

“This attack on contribution limits is neither justified by the Supreme Court’s recent jurisprudence on campaign finance regulation, nor can it make sense when judges are elected,” said Liz Seaton, JAS deputy executive director, in a statement.

“If we are to maintain fair and impartial courts, no party, no lawyer, and no interest group should be able to make outsized contributions that can even subtly influence a judge to rule in a particular way. Contribution limits implement the Constitution’s promise that judicial decisions will not suffer even the appearance of favoritism,”   Seaton said.

JAS, The Campaign Legal Center, the League of Women Voters, and Common Cause signed the brief.

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Tennessee ‘Judicial Accountability’ Group Won’t Divulge Funding

iStock_000015670171Small1Leaders of Tennesseans for Judicial Accountability, a nonprofit group that has stated opposition to retaining three state Supreme Court justices in August elections, are refusing to divulge the source of its funds, according to a lengthy report. They are citing the group’s status as a 501(c)(4) organization.

“That group may be the first hint of so-called ‘dark money’ in the battle for the state’s high court,” the lengthy investigative report noted. The three Democratic-appointed justices have been targeted for ouster by critics including Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican.

“Right now, Phil, the Tennessee judiciary is not a democracy — it’s a hypocrisy,” TNJA President Grant Everett Starrett told reporter Phil Williams. He said his group is not advocating a vote for or against the three justices. When pressed by, he said it “was a mistake” that an earlier TNJA press release had concluded regarding the justices, “Tennesseans should vote to replace them in August.” Read more

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Senate Confirms Diverse Judges, JAS Notes Milestones

CapitolflagNoting the U.S. Senate’s historic confirmation this week of three judges of diverse backgrounds, Justice at Stake said a diverse bench serves all and strengthens public confidence in the judiciary.

“Justice at Stake believes all Americans deserve a diverse and fully staffed judiciary, which sends the message that all people can expect to receive fair and timely treatment in court,” JAS Deputy Director of Federal Affairs and Diversity Initiatives Liz Fujii said in a statement.

The following judges were confirmed on Tuesday: Darrin Gayles, who is the first openly gay African American man to receive a lifetime appointment as a U.S. federal judge, will serve on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida;  Salvador Mendoza will be the first Hispanic judge to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington; and Staci Yandle will be the first African American to serve on U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois and the first openly gay Article III judge in Illinois. Read more

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Justice at Stake Files Brief on Arizona Ethics Rules Decision

justice-scalesJustice at Stake has submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, contending that sitting judges and non-judge candidates alike should be held to the same Arizona ethics rules when running for election to the bench.

“Arizona’s Code of Judicial Ethics was carefully crafted to keep even the appearance of politics out of the courthouse,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement about the case.

“Voters see no difference between the campaigns of judicial candidates with or without black robes, and the same strong ethics rules should apply to both so that public trust in the integrity of our courts is not eroded,” he said. “In sports, how would it look if there were relaxed rules of the game for one team and tough rules for the other?”

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