Archive for the 'New Politics Reports' Category
A “cascade of cash” in Pennsylvania’s 2009 state Supreme Court election gives voters more reason to “subscribe to the well-documented perception that justice is for sale,” cautions a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial. It features data from a Justice at Stake report.
With more than $5.4 million spent in the battle for one Supreme Court seat, Pennsylvania’s election ranked as the nation’s second most expensive in the last election cycle, according to the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10.” The report “gives Harrisburg lawmakers even greater reason to move ahead on reforming the way the state chooses its most powerful judges,” says the editorial, entitled “Big donations taint judiciary.”
Only two sources furnished most of the contributions for the 2009 contest. The reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts “has documented that three out of four state residents believe political donations influence judges’ rulings,” according to the editorial, which warns of grave consequences:
“That perception threatens to erode confidence in the state courts as places where every litigant can get a fair shake. The remedy is to take appellate court candidates out of the business of raising campaign donations and select them through merit-based appointments. After an initial term, these judges would go before the voters in a yes-or-no retention election.” Read more
A Birmingham (Ala.) News editorial premised on Justice at Stake’s “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10” excoriates big-money elections for the state’s Supreme Court, warning that the court takes on “the appearance of evil.”
The editorial is headlined, “A report again questions Alabama judicial spending, casting doubt on Alabama justice.” It starts off by citing Alabama’s No. 2 ranking in the report for campaign money raised by state Supreme Court candidates, at almost $3.2 million.
The editorial digs further to examine candidate fundraising per registered voter. It concludes, “Alabama is fooling itself if it thinks it plays second fiddle to any state.”
Focusing next on bankrollers of judicial campaigns, the editorial cites the “New Politics” report’s ranking of the Business Council of Alabama as sixth largest spender in the last election cycle, at almost $1.3 million. The editorial unleashes its harshest criticism:
“It sends a glaring signal to the people of Alabama — and the nation — that justice is far from just, that it is handed out with a wink and a nod, a judicial equivalent of a $100 handshake.
“It gives the court, … in the most benevolent of views, the appearance of evil.”
Justice at Stake’s “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10” is continuing to fuel commentary and concern about fair courts in both national and local news media, from the Huffington Post, for example, to the Michigan Messenger.
Dylan Ratigan, host of an MSNBC show in his own name, wrote an essay in Huffington Post entitled “Bought Justice.” He wrote about Landon Rowland, the chairman emeritus of Janus Capital Group and trustee of the Committee for Economic Development who has sharply questioned the influence of big-money elections on impartial courts. Ratigan, backing up his arguments with data from the “New Politics” report about special-interest spending in judicial elections, concluded:
“As we expose the forces trying to turn our courts into a forum for bought justice, we will eventually help everyone understand what Landon Rowland does — justice corrupted by money is justice denied.”
On Tuesday, Ratigan interviewed Rowland and Justice at Stake’s communications director, Charles Hall on his MSNBC show. You can learn more about the broadcast from Gavel Grab.
The Michigan Messenger published an article entitled, “Michigan a poster child for secret campaign funding.” It drew extensively from the “New Politics” report’s section on concealed special-interest spending in Michigan Supreme Court elections.
“Michigan has become a national symbol of special-interest pressure on our courts of law,” Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, was quoted as saying. Read more
“Many judges literally owe their jobs to a very small number of groups with very deep pockets,” JAS Communications Director Charlie Hall said on MSNBC.com’s Dylan Ratigan Show.
Since 2000, spending in judicial elections has exploded. As a result the courts have experienced “a deep, profound loss of public trust,” Hall said. Referring to national polls that show three of four Americans believe campaign cash affects courtroom decisions, Hall added, “That means Americans actually agree that justice is for sale.”
Ratigan highlighted findings from JAS’ recently issued “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10.” The report was co-authored by the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute of Money in State Politics. It includes these key findings:
- Nearly one-third of all funds spent on state high court elections came from non-candidate groups ($11.5 million out of $38 million in 2009-10).
- Nearly 40 percent of all funds spent on state high court races came from just 10 groups, including national special interest groups and political parties.
“Judges are increasingly beholden to the influence of money, not fairness or justices, as they are intended to be,” Ratigan said.
Ratigan also interviewed Landon Rowland, a trustee of the Committee for Economic Development and a chairman emeritus of Janus Capital Group. CED, a JAS partner group, has condemned special-interest spending on judicial elections and warned of its impact.
Both Hall and Rowland discussed reforms that can help restore public confidence in fair courts. Hall mentioned public financing of judicial elections in those states where voters pick judges, and also switching to an appointive system for selecting judges.
A Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial cites Justice at Stake’s latest “New Politics of Judicial Elections” report in deploring special-interest spending on judicial elections and calling for merit-based selection in Pennsylvania.
The editorial is headlined “Cash on the scales: Special interests seek to buy the judges they want.” Almost one-third of the $38.4 million total spent on high court elections in the 2009-10 election cycle came from outside, non-candidate groups, the editorial says in drawing from the report co-authored by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Pennsylvania had “had the dubious distinction of hosting the nation’s second-most expensive high court election (after Michigan)” during this time, the editorial notes, with Philadelphia trial lawyers and the state GOP furnishing more than half of the campaign funds raised by the candidates. “To the shame of all,” state Sen. Jane Orie, sister of the triumphant Justice Joan Orie Melvin, faces trial on charges of using public resources to advance the campaigns of her and her sister, the editorial adds. It endorses an alternative system for picking judges:
“That race could be the poster child for what can go wrong when money infects judicial elections. In a merit selection system of the sort proposed but not adopted in Pennsylvania, the corrupting influence of money would not be an issue. Instead, politicians and public alike wear self-imposed blindfolds and pretend only to hear banging gavels, not cash hitting the scales of justice.”
Adam Cohen, who teaches at Yale Law School, spotlighted the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-2010″ in a commentary entitled, “Judges Are for Sale — and Special Interests Are Buying.” Cohen says the reports shines light on a “scandal” that isn’t getting enough attention:
“The Occupy Wall Street movement is shining a spotlight on how much influence big-money interests have with the White House and Congress. But people are not talking about how big money is also increasingly getting its way with the courts, which is too bad. It’s a scandal that needs more attention. A blistering new report details how big business and corporate lobbyists are pouring money into state judicial elections across the country and packing the courts with judges who put special interests ahead of the public interest.”
Cohen says solutions are urgently needed. “The American ideal of justice requires neutral judges, whose only commitment is to the law,” he writes. “Judicial elections that are dominated by special interest money make a mockery of that ideal.”
The TIME.com piece was part of the latest round of news media coverage of the report co-authored by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Read more
Detroit News editorials don’t often agree with Justice at Stake. Yet an editorial in the Michigan newspaper Friday embraces as “scathing” the findings of JAS and two partner groups about weak state disclosure rules for judicial campaign spending. The editorial says:
“A new study by a set of national public interest groups notes that in the 2010 election cycle, Michigan had the nation’s most expensive state Supreme Court race. And thanks to the state’s weak disclosure laws, the source of a great deal of that money remains invisible to voters.”
“The report did not focus solely on Michigan, but its sections on the lack of accountability for spending on our high court elections is scathing.”
The editorial was part of a wave of commentary and news coverage that followed release Thursday of “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10″ by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics (see Gavel Grab).
At both national and state levels, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-10″ captured extensive news media coverage in the hours after its release Thursday.
The report (see earlier Gavel Grab post) was co-authored by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Here’s how Eliza Newlin Carney summed up its main findings for Roll Call, a journal that covers Capitol Hill:
“The nation’s court system faces multiple threats posed by escalating campaign spending, a spike in judicial impeachment challenges, and dwindling public resources, a trio of watchdog groups conclude in a report released today.”
A Huffington Post article quoted Charlie Hall, communications director for Justice at Stake, about a key conclusion from the report. ”A small group of interest groups are starting to take over Supreme Court elections in America,” Hall warned.
That conclusion was echoed by national articles from the Associated Press and Reuters, which were headlined “Interest groups flex clout in judicial elections” and “Interest groups increase spending on state court elections,” respectively. Read more
A report on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2009-2010” was posted online today, and it already has grabbed news media attention in The Washington Post.
The latest in a series of “New Politics” reports since 2000 documents an election cycle that poses some of the gravest threats yet to fair and impartial justice in America, according to the three legal reform groups that co-authored the report. The co-authors are Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The Post article highlighted the report’s finding that independent expenditures by special interest groups accounted for nearly 30 percent of the money spent on state judicial elections during the two-year period, far higher than four years earlier. “The authors argue that the pattern is a harbinger of the spending to come across the board next year” in the 2012 elections, the Post said.
Just 10 organizations dominated all judicial election spending, paying out a combined $15 million, the article said in reviewing the “New Politics” report’s findings.
“Too many judges owe their jobs to campaign money hidden from public view,” Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said in a statement. “Americans expect courts to be fair and impartial. They don’t want campaign cash to influence courtroom decisions.”
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor warned Thursday that the greatest threat to judicial independence in the nation is the “flood” of campaign cash flowing into courtrooms, and she also said that eroding faith in the judiciary is far-reaching.
Justice O’Connor gave keynote remarks at a Washington, D.C. event sponsored by the Justice at Stake Campaign and the Committee for Economic Development to discuss a newly released report, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2000-2009: Decade of Change.”
The report, co-authored by Justice at Stake and two partner groups, shows how special-interest money has exploded in state court races in the past decade, posing an unprecedented threat to the fairness, impartiality and independence of America’s courts.
Another speaker at the event, Hugh Caperton, brought a compelling personal story to the discussion of judicial reform.
“It appears that justice indeed is for sale,” Caperton said. He came into national prominence in 2009, when his Supreme Court case, Caperton v. Massey, became a landmark decision on when judges must recuse themselves from cases involving major campaign supporters. Despite that victory, however, his company lost its long court battle in West Virginia against a rival firm.
“I’m here because I’m a citizen that has experienced first-hand the devastation and destruction that big money is causing in our judicial elections, and ultimately in our courts,” Caperton said. Read more