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Moyers Report: Death of N.C. Public Financing Part of Rightward March

A rightward march by North Carolina’s legislature in 2013, including its killing a popular and successful program for public financing of judicial elections, continues to capture national news media attention and analysis.

The public financing program was a pioneering reform to protect courts from special interest influence, and it became a model for other states.

A Moyers and Co. report on what it called the “North Carolina takeover” as a result of a Republican supermajority in the legislature and a Republican governor attributed the death of public financing of judicial elections in significant part to opposition by Art Pope, the state budget director. He has been described as the “architect of the conservative takeover.” Read more

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Moyers Warns of Danger to Fair Courts; Program Cites JAS

Veteran newsman and commentator Bill Moyers has cast a national spotlight on groups spending millions of dollars to pressure judges to bend to partisan agendas in America.

In addition, his “Moyers and company” website, urging “Help Keep Our Courts Impartial,” prominently featured Justice at Stake for its mission to protect fair courts and for its resources. These included a JAS YouTube channel with judicial election ads and JAS website data about state judicial selection and also about momentous U.S. Supreme Court rulings affecting judicial elections spending.

On his weekend show, Moyers introduced his concerns this way:

“In case you haven’t noticed, something’s afoot with our judicial system. Across the country, large sums of money – much of it secret – are pouring into the races for high court judges. And in several states, partisan groups with funds from undisclosed sources are out to punish justices for rulings the partisans don’t like.”

Turning to a Republican and social conservative ouster drive mounted against retention of Justice David Wiggins in Iowa, Moyers continued:

“Iowa is often a bellwether state for national politics. So when out-of-state partisans and out-of-state money combine to try and take down and take apart a highly esteemed court in the heartland, you never know who’s next.” Read more

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Court Names Ohio Judicial Center in Honor of Justice Moyer

The Ohio Judicial Center will be named in honor of the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who served the second-longest period as top state jurist in Ohio’s history. The state Supreme Court approved the new name for the Judicial Center.

Justice Moyer, according to a Columbus Dispatch article, “is credited with making Ohio’s court system more open and responsive to the public, and bringing greater professionalism, discipline and accountability to the practice of law.” Justice Moyer was a founding member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors.

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Several Tributes Sought to Honor Moyer

Some Republican state senators are urging the renaming of the Ohio Judicial Center  in honor of the late Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, and they also are proposing that a commission be set up to recommend judicial appointees to the governor.

Gov. Ted Strickland earlier had recommended renaming of the building, which houses the state Supreme Court. That court would have to approve a name change, according to a Columbus Dispatch article.

To honor Justice Moyer by carrying out some of the changes he had backed, a Republican sponsor said, the proposal would do several things–including setting up a judicial review commission to give Ohio’s governor recommendations for judicial appointments.

Strickland voluntarily makes use of such a commission, the newspaper said, although that was not the case when he picked Franklin County probate judge Eric Brown to complete Justice Moyer’s term.

Justice Moyer was a founding member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors.

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Honoring Justice Moyer

The flags flew at half-staff in Columbus today to honor Thomas Moyer, who died recently in the final months of his final term, after 23 years as chief justice (see Gavel Grab). The line of mourners spilled out of the Ohio Judicial Center on to the sidewalk, waiting in the cold—38 degrees and gusty—to pay their respects.

Inside the courtroom, a black robe was draped over the chief justice’s chair. Moyer’s wife and family received visitors as the other justices stood nearby. A modest casket, swathed with an Ohio flag, sat up front, just past the railing.

I had come out of admiration and fondness. Justice Moyer was a founding member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. He relished working for fair courts (“it was his passion,” one judge told me in line). Despite his high perch, Justice Moyer tended to board matters large and small, sending the occasional ‘Thank you’ or ‘Good job’ that showed that yes, he was reading all those e-mails.

At board meetings and national events, Justice Moyer’s was typically the gentlest voice in the room. He never wanted to pull rank, and never needed to. “When I was growing up,” his son Drew told me today, “the lesson he taught was that no matter how famous you are, you only put on your pants one leg at a time.”

Indeed, what struck me was how a variety of people from the legal world—magistrates, specialty court officials, attorneys from the solicitor general’s office—told me the same story. Each was surprised and gratified at how a chief justice could be so conscientious and attentive to his or her issues.

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Tribute to Justice Moyer is Recommended

To honor Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer, who died last week (see Gavel Grab), the state’s governor is recommending the renaming of the Ohio state Supreme Court building after him.

“It was a building that he loved, that he worked so hard to have restored,” Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said, according to an article in ABA Journal.

Meanwhile the Cleveland Morning Journal published an editorial calling for removal of politics from the appointment of a successor to Justice Moyer. He championed for years the appointment, rather than election, of individuals to state judicial posts, the editorial noted.

It urged that Strickland keep the court at a reduced size for the remainder of the year, until after an already scheduled election to fill Justice Moyer’s seat, or appoint a true “caretaker” chief justice “who won’t turn such an important appointment into a political springboard.”

Justice Moyer was a founding member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors.

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Did Bill Moyers Go Too Far?

A recent Bill Moyers program, “Justice for Sale,” attracted intense interest, including here at Gavel Grab and at www.justiceatstake.org. In an impassioned commentary about Citizens United, Moyers said, “There’s now a crooked sign hanging on every courthouse in America reading ‘Justice for Sale.’”

But a letter from William Weisenberg (in photo), chair of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Judicial Independence, raises an important point. Although escalating spending on court elections has sparked widespread public concern about the appearance of justice, it does not follow that individual judges are in fact  unethical.

Here is Bill’s letter in its entirety:

The statement by Bill Moyers, a veteran journalist, portraying our courthouses as locations where “justice is for sale” is most unfortunate and a statement I strongly disagree with. As Chair of the ABA Standing Committee on Judicial Independences, I view this characterization of our Courts as impugning the integrity of our court system and the thousands of men and women who daily don their robes and administer justice in a fair and impartial manner.

Our partners share the view, demonstrated in polling, that there is a serious “perception” that financial support influences judicial decision-making. It is one thing to address perception that you, JAS, our partners and the ABA speak to often in our quest to drive money out of judicial selection. It is another thing to speak in terms of justice for sale as if it were a common thing.

No doubt, a small number of judges have roamed from the reservation and breached their sacred oath, some even to spend time as guests of the criminal justice system. But, these judges do not represent our judicial system. Read more

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Moyers on Citizens United: A 'Corrosive Flood'

Bill Moyers interviews Jeffrey Toobin

Veteran newsman and commentator Bill Moyers has offered a profoundly  troubling concern about “Justice for Sale” in courtrooms across America in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s recent Citizens United ruling.

Ten years ago, the potentially corrupting impact of campaign spending in judicial elections was apparent, he said in a broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal. Now, after the high court decision that may unleash a flood of special-interest spending on politics, Moyers said citizens can look to their courthouses for a grim new reality:

“There’s now a crooked sign hanging on every courthouse in America reading ‘Justice for Sale.’”

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'Justice for Sale' on 'Bill Moyers Journal'

“Justice for Sale” is the topic of tonight’s “Bill Moyers Journal,” which revisits a topic first explored on the show in 1999. The show’s web site discusses the program, citing data from the Justice at Stake web site. In addition, Moyers has authored a column in Huffington Post that quotes Justice at Stake, called “What Are We Bid for American Justice?”

According to the preview, the show will look at three states highlighted in the 1999 Moyers report: Texas, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. And the program will include discussions of Citizens United:

According to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, of all the fallout from the Citizens United decision, the most dangerous may be in judicial elections. These often low-profile affairs have become extraordinarily expensive in recent years, as interest groups have sought to shape the court in their favor by electing judges who share their views. With 87% of state judges facing election, the Citizens United case could have profound effects on the nation’s court system.

The program will air at 9 p.m. in the Washington, D.C., area. To find the broadcast time in your area, click here. To see the full preview article, click here.

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McCutcheon’s Ramifications are Debated

The U.S. Supreme Court’s milestone recent ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is continuing to draw a deluge of analysis and commentary. The ruling struck down a $123,000 limit on aggregate individual donations to federal candidates and political parties in an election cycle.

The 5-4 court majority effectively jettisoned “the post-Watergate system of campaign finance regulation,” Linda Greenhouse wrote in a New York Times commentary, entitled “An Indecent Burial.” Norman Ornstein, focusing on the majority’s limited view of what constitutes political corruption, wrote a National Journal piece headlined, “Could America Become a Banana Republic?The Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon ruling paves the way for a new era of political corruption in the U.S.”

“Can’t We Just Say the Roberts Court is Corrupt?” asked a Moyers & Company commentary. Tom Levenson had an opinion piece in The Atlantic, and Zephyr Teachout authored a commentary in Politico.

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