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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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JAS: President is On the Money in State of the Union Speech

rtr_barack_obama_sotu_jc_150120_16x9_992Justice at Stake commended President Obama’s remarks, in the State of the Union speech on Tuesday, about the growing problem of  “dark money” in American politics.

“A better politics is one where we spend less time drowning in dark money for ads that pull us into the gutter, and spend more time lifting young people up, with a sense of purpose and possibility, asking them to join in the great mission of building America,” Obama said.

“As the president noted, dark money is infecting our political system,”JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement.  “It’s part of a wave of special interest spending overtaking our elections  – and the sad truth is that special interests are spending millions of dollars on state judicial elections, too, where dark money has also entered the picture.  This spending is pressuring judges to be accountable to politics, and raising fears that justice is for sale.  Every state that elects judges needs to take steps to insulate its judges from political pressure.” Read more

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Report: Obama May Push to Curb ‘Secret Money’ in Politics

President Obama may announce in his State of the Union address on Tuesday a “major push to rein in the flood of secret money capturing our democracy,” the Daily Beast reported.

On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark campaign finance ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, Obama “may announce executive action … that would require businesses contracting with the government to disclose political contributions after contracts have been awarded,” the Daily Beast said. Read more

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JAS at D.C. Forum: Democracy Reform ‘Is a Three-Branch Issue’

(From left to right), Greg Moore, Bert Brandenburg, Caroline Fredrickson, Jo-Ann Wallace, Courtney Hight, Kristine Kippins

“Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United

At a time of surging interest group spending to elect state judges, and with state courts issuing rulings that touch nearly every American’s life, it’s more important than ever to keep our courts fair and impartial.

That was the central theme to emerge from a forum of advocates and legal experts convened by Justice at Stake, the American Constitution Society, and the Brennan Center for Justice in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday. Occurring shortly before the 5th anniversary of the the Supreme Court’s Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, it was entitled, “Democracy and Our State Courts: Fighting Back After Citizens United.”

Advocates and experts zeroed in on the vast impact of state courts issuing rulings on everything from voting laws to the environment to reproductive rights to death penalty cases, and they emphasized both the heightened threats to impartial courts when interest group spending rises, and a public perception that elected courts may be up for sale to the highest bidder. Read more

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Obama Renews Criticism of Citizens United Ruling Amid Shutdown

President Obama, in the midst of a partial government shutdown, has repeated his criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It “contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now,” in his opinion, he said.

Huffington Post reported the following remarks by the president about the blockbuster ruling that cleared the way for unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions to influence the election of federal candidates:

“I continue to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now.”

“You have some ideological extremist who has a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, ‘I know our Read more

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Supreme Court's Standing Declines in Public Opinion Poll

The Supreme Court’s standing with the public has declined in the past quarter century. Forty-four percent now approve of the way the court is doing its job, and three-quarters believe the justices’ personal or political views sometimes influence their decisions.

These findings came in a new poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News and reported by a Times article. They reflected a decline from approval as high as 60 percent in the late 1980s and near 50 percent more recently.

The article did not reach conclusions about the cause of the lower approval rating. It ranks strongly above the approval rating for Congress of 15 percent. A Gallup tracking poll showed President Obama with a 47 percent approval rating.

Possible causes for the latest public judgment of the Supreme Court could be tied to growing distrust in major institutions, or a view that the court has been more political in some of its most high profile cases including Bush v. Gore and Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the article said.

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Two Justices Suggest Reconsidering Citizens United

Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer have suggested the court reconsider its landmark 2010 campaign finance ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

They made their suggestion on Friday, when the high court put on hold a Montana Supreme Court decision to restore a century-old state ban on direct corporate campaign spending on candidates and committees, according to a Washington Post article. The Montana decision was widely seen as flying in the face of Citizens United, which permitted unlimited political spending by corporations and labor unions.

In Citizens United, a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court majority said such independent political spending does “not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption.” But Justices Ginsburg and Breyer, two of the dissenters, questioned on Friday whether that was correct given the shakeup in campaign finance practices since the opinion was issued:

“Montana’s experience, and experience elsewhere since this court’s decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, make it exceedingly difficult to maintain that independent expenditures by corporations ‘do not give rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption,’ ” Justice Ginsburg wrote.

“A petition for certiorari [from challengers of the Montana ruling] will give the Court an opportunity to consider whether, in light of the huge sums currently deployed to buy candidates’ allegiance, Citizens United should continue to hold sway.”

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Center Stage 2012: When Politics and Courts Collide

When take-no-hostages politics and fair and impartial courts collide, a collateral damage may be erosion of public trust in the courts.

And that’s especially the case when it comes to the Supreme Court agreeing to decide the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, the federal health care reform, in a presidential election year, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll seems to suggest.

The poll showed, according to a Huffington Post article, that almost 60 percent of Americans think the Supreme Court justices will follow ideology, not legal analysis, in ruling on the law’s controversial provision requiring people to buy health insurance.

Not that the article’s author, Mike Sacks, necessarily agrees. Sacks wrote, “In the first half of this term, the Court has shown more nuanced considerations, suggesting conservatives — including Chief Justice John Roberts — may bridge the divide between the five Republicans and four Democrats.”

A New York Times editorial delved into a different aspect of the intersection of politics and the courts, focusing on how three major cases arrived at the Supreme Court this term as part of an inherently political process. Read more

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MSNBC Host Focuses on Campaign Spending and Courts

MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan is increasingly providing a forum for debate about questions involving the influence of big campaign spending on impartial courts.

Last week, Ratigan interviewed on the cable TV show that bears his name two experts, JAS Communications Director Charles Hall (see Gavel Grab) and Landon Rowland, Janus Capital Group chairman emeritus and a trustee of the Committee for Economic Development.

More recently Ratigan published online a transcript of an interview with Rowland. The trustee of CED, a JAS partner group, voiced concern over the influence of campaign spending becoming “much more prominent and much more worrisome” in the last two decades in states where judges are elected.

Ratigan also wrote a Huffington Post commentary that asked, “Do we have a bought Supreme Court?” He went on, “This is a difficult, and troubling, question.” His commentary explored the court’s landmark Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling last year, and its discussion of campaign spending and corruption. “[W]hat we need is a new legal theory for the 99%, a new way of looking at corruption,” he wrote.

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