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‘Citizens United’ at 5: Protests, Stevens’s Criticism, JAS Cited

citizens-unitedA flurry of events around the fifth anniversary of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission included protestors disrupting the Supreme Court’s session and retired Justice John Paul Stevens, at 94, publicly voicing his continuing dissent.

“There is a greater public feeling that money is more important than votes, which I think is quite wrong,” Justice Stevens said at a Florida event, according to The Gainesville Sun.  In Washington, about half a dozen demonstrators rose individually during a session of the high court to yell such statements as  “Money is not speech” and “One person, one vote,” the Washington Post reported.

Justice at Stake said on Wednesday that the 2010 ruling has cast a long shadow over elected state courts (see Gavel Grab). A BillMoyers.com report quoted JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as saying earlier:

“Judicial elections have become a playground for big money and hardball politics … Citizens United poured gasoline on this fire, and in turn, unleashed record amounts of spending by outside groups … Our judges are trapped in a crucible. They are in a system they did not sign up for. They are raising millions from people who have business before the courts.”

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JAS: Citizens United Casts a Long Shadow Over State Courts

JAS-LogoThe Supreme Court’s landmark campaign finance decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission continues to cast a shadow over elected state courts, Justice at Stake said on Wednesday, the fifth anniversary of the ruling. Here is the statement of JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg:

“Five years ago, the Supreme Court in Citizens United permitted unlimited outside spending on elections. Many Americans understand the impact of Citizens United on executive and legislative branch politics, but its impact on state judiciaries is enormous and often overlooked.

“Judges in 39 states face elections, and 85 percent of all state judges are elected. With state courts a forum for ruling on many of the most contentious issues in our nation, whether health care law, abortion rights, marriage equality or environmental degradation, elected judges are being subjected to torrents of campaign spending by partisan interests who want to influence these decisions that have a major impact on our lives. Read more

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Pariente, Jefferson: ‘Alarmed’ by Citizens United Fallout

Jefferson_Justice_Wallace_2008_pariente0807The legacy of Citizens United for elected state courts is damaging, former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson and Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente write in a Dallas Morning News op-ed.

“Although we were appointed to our states’ high courts by governors of opposing parties, we share a bipartisan concern: On the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission decision, we are alarmed about the surge in interest group spending to influence state judicial elections. This has helped fuel a perception that justice is for sale, which undermines the public’s trust in impartial courts,” they assert.

Justice Jefferson was appointed initially by a Republican governor and Justice Pariente by a Democratic governor. Each has also run for the bench in elections. Their op-ed discusses specific examples of interest group spending to sway judicial elections and overall trends, and it concludes: Read more

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Discussion: Money Obstructing Democracy in Wake of Citizens United

Bert podium

Bert Brandenburg

Every branch of government in every state has seen consequences in the five years since the Citizens United decision was handed down. 

Eight organizations presented research at today’s event – Five Years After Citizens United: What are the Costs for Democracy? Bert Brandenburg, Executive Director of Justice at Stake, explained that courts are being forced to bend to political pressure, turning them into “politicians in black robes.” He also noted that the upcoming Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar case will be an important hallmark, as the Supreme Court must decide if judges are permitted to directly solicit donations to finance their campaigns.

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Article: Secretive Political Groups Flourish After ‘Citizens United’

iStock_000015670171Small1“At least four mysterious groups targeted candidates for state judicial races,” the Center for Public Integrity reports in a broader article about secretive nonprofit groups that played in the 2014 elections and flourished.

“Such secretive spending is especially concerning within the judicial community because donors could come before a judge whom their dollars helped elect,” CPI notes.

Its article mentions Law Enforcement Alliance of America spending on TV advertising critical of attorney Tim Cullen, who was defeated by Court of Appeals Judge Robin Wynne (see Gavel Grab) in an Arkansas Supreme Court contest, and support by a group called American Freedom Builders for the successful re-election bid of Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judi French.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 was followed by a wave of so-called “social welfare” nonprofit groups spending in elections, and these groups are not required to disclose their donors, the article says.

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Senate Closer to Debating Measure to Reverse 'Citizens United'

The Senate voted on Monday to proceed to debate a proposed constitutional amendment that would reverse the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United ruling. A Republican filibuster is expected soon, and the proposal is not likely to pass the Senate this session, Huffington Post reported.

While the proposal has almost universal support of Democrats and opposition from Republicans, a majority of Americans from both parties “support the rationale offered by amendment proponents as a reason to amend the Constitution,” according to a separate Huffington Post article. Read more

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California Citizens United Ballot Initiative on Hold

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling halting action on a state ballot initiative that would have asked California voters’ opinions regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), the Los Angeles Times reports.

The provision, which would have had no binding legal effect, was contested because it would “not change state law.”

The ballot initiative is now on hold pending court review. Both sides agree that this decision means that the question will not appear on this year’s ballot.

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JAS to Senate: Consider Impact on Courts of 'Citizens United'

Cash-gavel-soldPublic trust in fair and impartial courts “is undermined when special interest groups pour large sums of money into judicial elections,” Justice at Stake wrote leaders of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday.

The JAS letter was accepted as part of the record for the committee’s hearing on a constitutional amendment in response to Supreme Court decisions on campaign finance and money in politics. The letter said the impact of Citizens United on state judicial elections was an “often overlooked area” that JAS wanted to spotlight.

“Over the past ten years, we have witnessed judicial elections become increasingly expensive and alarmingly politicized,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg wrote in the letter. “Millions of dollars have been poured into judicial elections, mostly for state high courts, but increasingly for state appellate and trial courts as well.” Read more

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Wisconsin Communities Join National Call to Overturn Citizens United

Numerous Wisconsin communities, including Gov. Scott Walker’s hometown and other Republican strongholds, have passed referendums opposing Citizens United.

The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch reports that 41 Wisconsin communities have called for a Constitutional amendment to reverse the Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision and related cases that opened the floodgates to unlimited election spending.

“It puts good people in both parties in a difficult situation. I always thought that businesses did not have a significant voice and that their voices should be heard in the public square,” retiring Republican State Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) said during a recent public forum. “Never, in my wildest dreams, did I think businesses would buy the public square.”

Nationwide, 16 states and over 500 municipalities have passed resolutions urging Congress to amend the constitution to limit money’s influence over politics.

Wednesday’s McCutcheon v. FEC ruling will allow more money into politics, enabling a small number of super-rich donors to give as much as $3.6 million to candidates and parties in a single election cycle.

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JAS: Citizens United Anniversary 'One to Regret'

On Tuesday’s fourth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark Citizens United campaign finance ruling, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said the decision had “poured gasoline on the already burning fire of judicial election spending, further eroding public confidence in our courts.”

“In the first full election cycle since Citizens United, independent spending by special interest groups in judicial races surged by more than 50 percent over the previous record,” he said in a statement. “The deluge of special interest and political campaign cash signals a race to the bottom in judicial elections, and they are becoming barely distinguishable from mudslinging political contests for executive or legislative offices.

“Given Citizens United and subsequent court rulings, we’re on our way to creating a Wild West for elections generally. In judicial elections, this trend is of paramount concern because a relatively modest amount of money can tip the scales of justice.”

Justice at Stake called the anniversary one to regret. Its statement advocated an array of reforms in the wake of Citizens United.

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