Gavel Grab

PBS Examines Politicizing of Courts; Cites JAS Data

A new PBS report focuses on this question: “If justices have to raise campaign money can they remain impartial?” The broadcast cites data compiled by Justice at Stake about judicial election campaign spending in the past decade.

The report was posted online by PBS’s Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly on Friday, and the people it features include conservative activists who have pushed to remove Iowa Supreme Court justices over a controversial marriage decision; an Iowa justice who was removed from the bench as a result; and Rachel Caufield, a professor of political science at Drake University and a research fellow at the American Judicature Society. On Sunday, the report will air on Washington-based WETA at 10:30 a.m.

While issues aired in the broadcast will be familiar to Gavel Grab readers, the program delivers them to a national audience; the program airs in more than 250 PBS markets nationally.

Former Iowa Justice Michael Streit, one of three jurists removed in a 2010 retention election over a unanimous court decision that permitted same-sex marriage, offers this concern: “[T]hose judges that have to raise money to get elected and to get reelected, they know who’s buttering the bread. They know that they are going to have to please somebody. These corporations that give money to judges are not doing it out of civic interests for good courts. They’re trying to get people that will rule in their favor in the long run.”

Cautions Caufield of the American Judicature Society, a JAS partner group: “All across the country, every citizen deserves to know that if they’re going to walk into a courtroom, they’re going to have a fair trial and a decision’s going to be rendered by a judge who’s not tarnished by any sort of political agenda, and when we start inserting politics into the judiciary we threaten that ideal.”

Also in the report, correspondent Lucky Severson relies on JAS data to spotlight an explosion in judicial election spending: “According to the nonpartisan group called Justice at Stake, from 2000 to 2009, money spent on state supreme court justice races jumped more than two-and-a-half times to over $206 million.”

The Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly also links to JAS and AJS as resources.

 

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