Approaching year’s end, Justice at Stake Executive Director Brandenburg called 2013 a “pretty challenging year” for state and federal courts. He forecast another year of both challenges and gains in 2014, when many states will hold judicial elections.
To see video of Brandenburg discussing fair courts in 2013, click here. At the federal level, Brandenburg said the U.S. Senate has begun confirming a series of federal judges after removing a political logjam by enacting filibuster reform. There have been some historic gains for diversity on the bench as well, he said.
At the same time the federal courts continue to suffer from a long-term funding crisis that was taken to a new level by across-the-board budget cuts called sequestration, he said. “A lot of access to justice programs are being hurt, and people’s right to a day in court is impacted” by the funding crisis, Brandenburg said.
Turning to the states, he pointed to a major success in West Virginia, where a pilot program for the public financing of state Supreme Court elections was made permanent. On the other hand, legislators in North Carolina eliminated a successful and pioneering public financing program for judicial elections, and “a decade of a good record of keeping judges away from their contributors has been wiped away rather quickly.”
Brandenburg lamented efforts to dismantle merit selection of top judges in Kansas and expected renewed efforts in 2014. This year, the legislature dumped merit selection for Kansas Court of Appeals judges but took no action on a proposal to do the same for state Supreme Court justices.
“The money chase continues” in states that hold judicial elections, and “more and more money is is being poured in by outside groups who want decisions out of the courts to go their way,” Brandenburg continued. Not only will numerous states hold judicial elections in 2014, he said, but “we expect a renewal of judicial selection wars — efforts to do away with, or politicize, merit selection” of judges.
“Two thousand and fourteen is going to be another big year for the courts,” Brandenburg said.