Archive for the 'New Politics Reports' Category
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
Will voters’ anger over the partial U.S. government shutdown influence their votes in upcoming Pennsylvania judicial elections? It’s an open question, if state media coverage is a guide:
- “Pa. judges don’t expect to feel ire of voters,” declared a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review headline.
- “Pa. judges worrying shutdown may imperil re-election chances,” a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette headline stated.
The latter article said voter angst is high enough that the Election Day outcomes could be “a nail-biter,” although that is not likely to be the case. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille is standing for retention, as is Justice Max Baer. Two Superior Court judges also are standing for retention.
Record outside spending in state high court elections last year reflects down-ballot efforts by political groups seeking “to control individual state agendas,” the Huffington Post said in an article about the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” report.
It’s cheaper for special interests to invest money in a state court seat than to spend on a state legislative race, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told Huffington Post. ”These were deemed as ripe for the picking,” he said.
The article was headlined, “No Election is Too Small for the Koch Brothers’ Money.” It prominently mentioned the role of such major spenders in the 2012 judicial elections as the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association’s Law Enforcement Alliance of America.
According to the report by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, independent groups poured $15.4 million into TV ads and other electioneering in state Supreme Court elections last year. Read more
A report on the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12″ is getting news coverage across the country as a result of an Associated Press article about it. The report was compiled by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The AP began by mentioning a Des Moines Register article (see Gavel Grab) that reported on the spending of $833,000 in Iowa, where a state Supreme Court justice successfully stood for retention election amid controversy over a unanimous decision in 2009 about marriage for same-sex couples.
The Iowa election spending is an example of how special interest spending in judicial elections “has turned into an arms race,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The American people need to know that judges are deciding cases based on the law, not on who spent the most money to support their campaign.”
National organizations at odds over the issue of marriage for same-sex couples were among groups that ended up spending a total of $833,000 on an Iowa Supreme Court retention (up-or-down) election last year.
Radio Iowa reported this news based on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12,” a report released this week by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
As part of $466,000 spent to defeat Justice David Wiggins, the National Organization for Marriage pumped more than $130,000 into TV advertising. A group called Iowans for Freedom spent another $318,000 on the unsuccessful effort to oust Justice Wiggins.
In the effort to retain Justice Wiggins, a group called Justice Not Politics spent $322,000, and The Human Rights Campaign furnished more than a third of that money.
In 2010, voters removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices over their votes in a unanimous court decision that had found a right to marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa. Critics of the ruling sought in 2012 to repeat the success.
In two key judicial election battleground states, a report on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” attracted headlines on Thursday, the day it was released online.
Co-authored by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the report documented unprecedented spending of $24.1 million by special interest groups and political parties on television ads and other election materials in state court races during the last election cycle.
“New report shows NC Supreme Court race drew record outside spending,” declared the headline for a (Raleigh) News & Observer blog post. Overall spending added up to more than $4.4 million, including $3.8 million in outside spending, on the North Carolina race between incumbent Justice Paul Newby and Judge Sam Ervin IV.
“Our courts are supposed to be a safe place for impartial justice, but campaign cash and political pressure are threatening to tip the scales,” the post quoted Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, as saying. “If Americans start thinking of judges as politicians in robes, our democracy is in trouble.” Read more
A report on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” was posted online today, and it already has grabbed news media attention in The Daily Beast.
The latest in a series of “New Politics” reports since 2000 documents an election cycle that poses grave new threats 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 Daily Beast article by Eleanor Clift highlighted the report’s finding that special interest money was unleashed in judicial elections to an unprecedented degree in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United. The article was headlined, “Special Interest Money Has Upended Judicial Elections, Says New Report: Judges are supposed to be insulated from politics. But the 2010 Citizens United decision is putting the judicial system’s integrity at risk, a new report out Thursday warns.”
Overall, spending on high court elections in the 2011-12 cycle totaled $56.4 million, with $33.7 million spent on state Supreme Court TV advertising, up 42 percent from 2001. Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, said, “It’s the biggest threat to democracy that nobody’s heard of.”
“In the end, we want judges to decide cases based on the law and the Constitution, and not based on who gave them money,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center and the report’s main author. Read more
An outspoken USA Today editorial, citing data compiled by Justice at Stake, harshly condemns a new kind of judicial election politics that “corrupts the neutrality of courts.”
The editorial is entitled, “Judicial elections threaten justice: Do you want judges to answer to the law, or to campaign contributors and ideological groups?”
The editorial relies in part on a 2010 “New Politics of Judicial Elections” report by JAS, partner groups and legal expert James Sample. The report documented more than a doubling of fundraising by state supreme court candidates in the prior decade as partisans and interest groups sought to influence the courts.
“Worse yet,” the editorial laments, “sitting judges who do their jobs, ruling impartially in accordance with state and federal constitutions, now face ouster at the hands of partisans who find such bedrock principles inconvenient.”
Referring to conservative-led campaigns this year to oust justices in Florida and Iowa, where the jurists face retention (yes-or-no) elections as part of merit selection systems, the editorial states:
“The political rot has spread so far that even judges appointed by merit selection are vulnerable. … [Retention elections] worked when judges were ousted only for malfeasance. But now their impartial constitutional judgments are subjected to political litmus tests.”
A study group led by Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Paul De Muniz, who is retiring, will begin examining this month possible reforms in the way judges are chosen for the state’s two highest courts.
In a proposal for the work group in 2011, Chief Justice De Muniz wrote, “Nationally, the increasing politicization of state judicial elections puts at risk judicial independence and erodes public confidence in the impartiality of judicial decisions. More recent judicial election campaigns in Oregon have exemplified the growing trend for judicial elections to become more and more affected by partisan politics.”
According to a column in The Oregonian by Susan Nielsen, reform efforts in Oregon have not gotten traction in the past decades, but “[u]gly battles in Iowa and other states, combined with an explosion in campaign spending, have changed the game.” Voters removed three state Supreme Court justices in Iowa in 2010, in retaliation for a court ruling that permitted same-sex marriages.
One reform suggestion that has been floated is for Oregon to move to what is known as The Missouri Plan, for a proven appointment-and-retention system of judicial elections there.
On a web site for the study group, reading materials for the first meeting included a report co-authored by Justice at Stake and partner groups entitled “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2009-10.” The report found 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 (see Gavel Grab).
In North Carolina, meanwhile, a WFAE radio report explained how judicial elections work in the Tarheel State and questions raised about the process.