Gavel Grab

TIME Analyst Calls 'New Politics' Report 'Blistering'

A new report by Justice at Stake on special-interest spending in judicial elections is “blistering,” and it shows why reform is needed to ensure impartial courts, a TIME.com analyst declares.

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.

The (Eugene, Ore.) Register-Guard published a strong editorial based on the report and saying that special-interest spending in judicial elections threatens to undermine the impartiality of judges:

“Holding elections to fill critically important state judgeships is one of those ideas that sounds great in civics textbooks. But the dramatic increase in spending in state judicial races threatens both the judicial neutrality — and, just as importantly, public confidence in that neutrality ­— that is the foundation of this nation’s justice system.”

“The nation’s system of justice depends on having state judges who are fair-minded and accountable to the Constitution and the law instead of money and ideologies. The growing amount of money being spent on state judicial elections threatens to undermine this system and underscores the need for strong disclosure laws and reasonable limits on spending.”

Elsewhere, an Associated Press article and a Birmingham News report relied on the “New Politics” study to highlight expensive judicial elections in Alabama.

According to the latter article, ”It’s out of control here in Alabama,” said Jim Pratt, the president of the Alabama State Bar. “This kind of spending gives us a black eye.”

A lengthy Associated Press article focused on setbacks to a pilot program for public financing of state Supreme Court elections in West Virginia, based on the “New Politics” study. The article was entitled, “W.Va. attempts scaled-down candidate funding pilot.”

In Michigan, Chad Selweski interpreted the “New Politics” data about the state in a Macomb Daily blog post with this headline: “It’s official: Michigan has the worst judicial election system in U.S.”

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