Archive for the 'New Politics Reports' Category
Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, whose saga of being targeted by big special interest spending in a judicial election has captured widespread attention, was to address a Wisconsin audience on Monday. In the run-up to his speech, WUWM radio aired a report saying Wisconsin’s judicial elections are among the nation’s nastiest and citing Justice at Stake as its source.
The “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12″ report featured Wisconsin’s court elections as a case study, WUWM recounted, and the report “says the politicization and influence of outside money is undermining public confidence in the court.”
“When people have a perception that justice can be bought or sold, it undermines the whole system of our courts – our system of impartial justice,” former Justice Diaz says. His story has been told in a documentary and it inspired a novel by John Grisham.
The “New Politics” report was recently released by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
An Atlantic online article spotlights massive spending on state judicial elections — as highlighted by Justice at Stake — and some judges’ assets that may pose a conflict of interest as twin threats to fair and impartial courts.
The article is headlined, “How America’s Judges Are Being Bought Out: We think of courts as being immune to money interests. Some of them, as disclosure reports for state Supreme Court judges reveal, are not.” It focuses on a Center for Public Integrity report this week that gave 42 states and the District of Columbia failing grades as a part of an evaluation of disclosure requirements for high court judges (see Gavel Grab).
The article also provides a link to the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” report compiled by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. The article states:
“In recent years, some judicial elections have begun to look just like political campaigns, complete with attack ads, political action committees, and millions of dollars in fundraising for candidates. The financial involvement of special-interest groups in state Supreme Court races across the country has blurred the boundaries between money and politics and justice, alarming citizens and ethicists alike.”
MSNBC has featured Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg paired with a former state Supreme Court chief justice in a segment on the Craig Melvin show entitled, “Judges for Sale?”
The recently released “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12″ report disclosed that a record $33.7 million was spent on TV advertising in state court elections during the latest cycle, Melvin said, and he interviewed Brandenburg and former Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson of the Texas Supreme Court about the implications of this soaring spending.
“People spend money because they want something out of the courts,” Brandenburg said, suggesting that the “tort wars” are in turn becoming “the court wars” waged over tilting the scales of justice in state high courts across the country. “In the end,” Brandenburg warned, “the public is wondering, ‘Is Justice for Sale?’”
Former Justice Jefferson said that in Texas, few people actually know the qualifications of numerous judges listed on a ballot, and voters end up casting a ballot along straight-party lines. “That’s why it’s a broken system — accountability doesn’t work in this context,” he said. Read more
A news outlet in still another state included in the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12” report has featured its findings and quoted two of its principal authors, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.
The CentralOhio.com news article, relying on the New Politics report, said that spending on state Supreme Court elections in Ohio totaled more than $3.8 million during the past election cycle and TV advertising amounted to $1.7 million.
Nationwide, an estimated $56.4 million was spent on judicial elections, according to the report, and more than $33.7 million of that went toward TV advertising.
“Judges are starting to look indistinguishable from other politicians. We don’t want our judges to be politicians in robes,” said Alicia Bannon of the Brennan Center, lead author of the report.
Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, cautioned that questions of impartiality are raised when spending on judicial campaigns comes from donors who may become parties to lawsuits before a judge. Read more
Justice O’Connor is the honorary chair of Justice at Stake, and her plan calls for merit selection and retention votes –measures that help insulate judges from special interest money that has poured into elections. The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012 report coauthored by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, highlights this problem.
“The flood of money in politics is undermining the state judiciary’s fairness, impartiality, and independence and its reputation for making decisions that reflect those essential qualities,” reported the Constitution Center.
“Taking the financial reins from outside special-interest groups and giving them back to the local committee parties and candidates could reduce some of the extreme hostility and negativity in ads. But money finds whatever crevice it can, and flows into groups which are less transparent and less accountable,” retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said at a panel discussion about The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012 report.
Justice Shepard told the Kansas City InfoZone about the importance of keeping campaign money and strategies out of judicial elections. The report showed that of the $56.4 million spent on state judicial elections, $24.1 million came from special interest groups and political parties.
Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said the goal of keeping conflicts of interest out of the courtroom, “is being worn away steadily a year at a time by a relentless campaign of big money spending and political bullying.”
Citing data from the recently released The New Politics of Judicial Elections report, a Moyers & Company article warns that “…state high courts are falling prey to the same out-of-control, post-Citizens United election spending that has plagued legislative and executive races during the past two election cycles.”
The John Light article titled, “Dark Money’s New Frontier: State Judicial Elections,” highlighted that more than $56 million was spent on state high court races across the country. A significant chunk of this money came from special interests one would expect to find operating at the national level – $19.6 million of the $56.4 million total.
The story notes that last year’s election wasn’t the first time large sums of money were spent on judicial elections, but until recently, the majority came from a judge’s personal campaign war chest. What’s new is the influx of special interest money.
A new poll by Justice at Stake offers further evidence that voters continue to be alarmed by the amount of money pouring into state supreme court races.
According to results reported in the Arkansas Blog, “9 in 10 voters believe campaign contributions to judicial candidates influence court decisions. Justice is for sale, in other words. And that’s not likely to change any time soon. It’s only likely to get worse.”
Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus told The Center for Public Integrity, “Unlimited money in judicial races could transform state courts into ‘mini-legislatures’ composed of judges who will vote according to partisan ideology. I don’t see how that’s the rule of law.”
Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice commissioned the poll, which was released as part of the roll-out for a new report by the groups, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.” – See more at: Gavel Grab
State judicial elections are becoming increasingly politicized, judges are the target of “intimidation” efforts across America and these trends pose a danger for impartial courts, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus warned today.
Justice Ternus spoke during a panel convened in Washington, D.C. by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice to spotlight a new report, the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.” The nation’s constitutional system is threatened when public confidence in the courts is eroding, she said.
Justice Ternus was removed from the Iowa bench in 2010 after interest groups pumped money into a campaign to oust her and two colleagues over a controversial marriage decision. The groups behind the effort wanted to send a message nationwide, she said, while mocking the targeted justices as “the ruling class” that “ignores the people at their peril.”
“It did send a much more effective message of intimidation” when the three were voted off the bench in a retention election, she said. And even when such an effort is not successful, she added, such efforts “leave a legacy of suspicion,” fear and intimidation and are dangerous for the courts. “That’s a terribly way to operate a court system that is the foundation of our democracy,” she said.
Michigan’s Supreme Court contest in 2012 led the nation for undocumented spending, according to a Detroit News article that spotlighted data from the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” report.
A total of $18.85 million was spent when three seats on the high court were up for election, and $13.85 million of that came from undisclosed donors, the newspaper reported. For the second consecutive election cycle, Michigan led all other states for overall high court election spending, said the report, released by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network lamented, “We can no longer say we’re no worse than the rest. We are worse than the rest, and that’s especially true for judicial campaigns.” MCFN is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more