A recent report by the American Constitution Society (ACS) about business group donations to judicial campaigns supports a perception that “justice is for sale,” Liz Seaton, Justice at Stake’s acting executive director, wrote in a commentary for the ACS blog.
The report, “Justice at Risk,” documented a correlation between donations by business groups to judicial campaigns and state supreme court justices voting in favor of business interests (see Gavel Grab). Seaton called the questions raised by the report “familiar, and … troubling.” She elaborated:
“While the report stops short of deciding ‘[w]hether the campaign contributions determine which judges are on the bench or they influence how the judges on the bench decide cases – or both,’ it underscores that ‘the rising tide of campaign contributions from interest groups is placing fair and impartial justice at risk.’ Justice at Stake agrees. This study shows that the public is right to be concerned, and vigilant.”
“Today, the ‘Justice at Risk’ report has fresh facts that unfortunately tend to support a popular perception that ‘justice is for sale’ in one important context, that of business cases in state courts. When it comes to enacting reforms to protect fair and impartial courts, the report helps build a stronger case.” Read more
“Iowans should take warning there are real consequences when justice has a price tag,” columnist Kathie Obradovich wrote in the Des Moines Register, taking note of a recent study by the American Constitution Society.
The ACS report found a significant statistical relationship between campaign money from business groups in state judicial elections and state supreme court justices voting in favor of business interests (see Gavel Grab). However, it did not find such a relationship in retention election systems.
And that spells “good news for Iowa,” Obradovich asserted, because the state’s Supreme Court justices initially are appointed by the governor in a merit-based selection process and later stand in a retention (yes-or-no) election.
Iowa legislators have resisted proposals to make major changes to the state’s merit selection process, and Obradovich interpreted the ACS study to suggest “that was the right decision in terms of keeping Iowa courts free of influences related to campaign fundraising.”
With North Carolina’s public financing program for judicial elections facing its death in the legislature, a (Raleigh) News & Observer editorial defended the program. It also condemned the increasingly powerful role in the state of budget director Art Pope, who reportedly influenced a House vote to kill the program.
To learn about the role played by Pope, see Gavel Grab. The News & Observer editorial was headlined, “Democracy undone by ending funding for NC court races,” and it commended the public financing program:
“Taking public funding away from judicial races is particularly grievous. The public knows it’s unhealthy to have judges elected primarily through contributions from those who have business before them. That’s why the public overwhelmingly favors the state program that provides public funding for candidates running for the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. Last month, a poll by SurveyUSA found 68 percent of the state’s voters favor the program. Fourteen of the 15 Court of Appeals judges signed a letter supporting it.” Read more
Tags: North Carolina
Does President Obama’s selection of three nominees for vacant seats on a highly influential appeals court constitute “court packing?” A USA Today editorial offers a resounding “no.” In reply, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch calls for filling other judicial vacancies first.
The USA Today editorial board calls the “court packing” argument of several leading Republican senators an “Orwellian word-twisting” and “ludicrous.” Filling empty, authorized seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the kind of job that presidents are supposed to do, it says.
Some Republicans contend there is not the workload to justify filling the three seats. “That’s disingenuous because the unusually complex cases the D.C. Circuit hears give it one of the most challenging and time-consuming dockets of any circuit court,” the editorial contends. It also notes that Democrats advanced the same workload argument when a Republican president was seeking to fill empty seats on the same court.
The editorial concludes with an appeal for an end to the “partisan tit-for-tat.” It states, “Continuing warfare over judicial nominees will undermine the courts and drive Congress’ abysmal ratings even lower.” Read more
The sharply divided and often feuding Wisconsin Supreme Court has decided to hear two cases involving controversial issues, and its ultimate rulings could again bring the court into the limelight again.
Gov. Scott Walker’s Act 10, a law that restricts collective bargaining for many public employees, is involved in one of the appeals. A trial judge in Dane County earlier invalidated the law as it applied to local governments and school district, but it was uncertain whether the decision applied beyond Madison and Milwaukee, the Associated Press reported.
A 2011 Wisconsin Supreme Court election was widely seen as a referendum on Walker’s collective bargaining law.
The court also agreed last week to decide whether Wisconsin’s same-sex domestic partnership law violates a constitutional amendment that voters approved in 2006. It defines marriage as between one woman and one man, a Bloomberg article said.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The law license held by ex-Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin of Pennsylvania was suspended temporarily by the state Supreme Court following her recent conviction on public corruption charges and her sentencing, according to a Pennlive.com article.
- Gov. Tom Corbett’s latest nominee to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Superior Court Judge Correale F. Stevens, appeared in 2007 at an anti-illegal immigrant rally, according to Pennlive.com
- A recent session of the military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay was held in such tight secrecy that the defendant was not allowed to attend, and participants were not allowed to discuss the issues debated, the New York Times reported
- A New York Times feature about U.S. District Judge Edward Korman, who handed a scathing defeat to the Obama administration involving the morning-after birth control pill, described him as a complex and gentle judge.
North Carolina legislators have cast another key vote to kill the state’s successful public financing program for appellate judicial candidates, and “the real losers will be North Carolina residents” if the program dies, Justice at Stake warned on Friday.
The House voted in favor of a budget plan this week that effectively kills the public financing program, and the Senate approved earlier a budget version with a similar effect. In a statement, Liz Seaton, Justice at Stake’s acting executive director, said:
“This action by the House sets the stage for North Carolinians to lose their judicial public financing program, a popular program that is used by candidates for the appellate court bench from both political parties and that enjoys broad bipartisan support. Even worse, there are reports that this House action appears to be the result of personal lobbying of legislators by the state budget director, Art Pope, who is a major campaign contributor to these lawmakers. If correct, that means campaign donor political influence is being used to kill a judicial public financing program designed to prevent campaign donor pressure on judges. Read more
Tags: North Carolina
A legislator sponsored this week an amendment to save North Carolina’s embattled public financing program for judicial elections, then withdrew it after a conversation with state budget director Art Pope. The House then “voted to kill” the program, a (Raleigh) News & Observer political blog reported.
Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan’s amendment would have funded the program only through attorneys fees, eliminating another funding stream, from a check-off on state income tax forms.
Gov. Pat McCrory had pursued elimination of the popular public financing program in his own budget plan, and Art Pope, his budget director, “was seen lobbying state Rep. Jonathan Jordan outside the House chambers Tuesday afternoon,” the blog reported. Shortly afterward, Jordan withdrew his proposal. The House voted for a budget plan that would have the effect of terminating the program.
In the blog, reporter Rob Christensen relied on an account by Melissa Price Kromm, director of North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections, who had observed the conversation. The headline for the blog post asked, “Did Art Pope kill judicial public financing?” The post said Pope has long opposed the public financing program, and he and his family have donated campaign money in support of Jordan, as have three groups associated with Pope. Read more
Tags: North Carolina
Addressing the Philadelphia Bar Association, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called it a “serious problem that people in this country think of judges as politicians in robes,” Law360.com reported. She urged the lawyers’ group, which backs merit-based selection of judges, to continue pushing for reform.
There is an erosion of public trust in impartial courts when judges are seen as politicians, Justice O’Connor warned. She mentioned opinion polling showing that almost three in four Americans believe campaign contributions have an influence on judges, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported.
Pennsylvania has seen some of the nation’s most expensive judicial elections, Justice O’Connor noted.
Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said about Justice O’Connor’s remarks:
“Judicial selection reform is not necessarily the most eye-catching or ‘sexy’ issue. However, vocal support from nationally respected figures like Justice O’Connor highlights the need for change. Campaign money, special interest group and political party endorsements, a familiar name, or good ballot position shouldn’t play such a big role in choosing jurists, who play such a critical role in society.” Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett announced that he has nominated Superior Court Judge Correale F. Stevens to take the seat on the state Supreme Court vacated by Joan Orie Melvin, who was recently convicted of public corruption. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Stevens has served on the Superior Court since 1998 and has been President Judge of the court since 2011.
- President Obama must nominate a judge to the U.S. District Court to take the place of Judge John Bates, who was made head of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. According to The Blog of Legal Times, the president would not ordinarily have to nominate an additional judge to the District Court, but because Bates is to be the director of the Administrative Office, federal law mandates that an additional judge be added nominated.
- The Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that independent groups that participate in politics periodically, but whose main focus is elsewhere, need not file regular campaign reports after spending in support of a candidate. However, as the Des Moines Register reports, the court upheld other key portions of the state’s campaign finance law, such as the ban on direct contributions from corporations to political campaigns.
- The U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has come under greater scrutiny and criticism in recent weeks after it was revealed that it approved the National Security Administration’s collection of private citizens’ phone records. Live Science reports that several U.S. senators and civil libertarian groups such as the ACLU have responded to the recent scandal by demanding that the FISC release details about its decisions to the public.