Gavel Grab

JAS Cited on TN Court Race: When Public Fears ‘Justice is for Sale’

Image From Fox 17 Newscast

Image From Fox 17 Newscast

When politics and justice collide, there are major concerns about the outcome, a News Channel 5 report said in spotlighting Justice at Stake’s concerns about the run-up to Tennessee Supreme Court retention election Aug. 7.

A TV ad critical of three justices seeking a new term began airing over the weekend, accusing them of being “liberal on crime” and of having “advanced Obamacare in Tennessee.” In fact, the justices have not ruled on the federal Affordable Care Act, News Channel 5 said, and the court rejected a convicted killer’s appeal in the case cited as proof of the “liberal on crime” charge.

“We ask our judges to apply cases one at a time based on the law and the constitution — and not on political pressure and not on fund-raising,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told News Channel 5. ”So the big risk is that a judicial election could turn into an auction to the point where you have the public fearing that justice is for sale.” JAS reported earlier that both sides have pumped more than $300,000 into TV ads so far. Read more

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In N.C. Election, a ‘Fear That Justice Will be Warped,’ Brandenburg Says

jas_logo“The biggest democracy issue that nobody’s heard of” is confronting North Carolinians, given record-breaking spending on a state Supreme Court primary in May, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a podcast interview with NC Policy Watch.

Brandenburg recapped the primary race, in which more than $1.3 million was spent on TV advertising, and he noted that four seats on the high court will be up for grabs in the November general election.

“The more money coming in, you have more fear that justice will be warped,” he cautioned, as judges find themselves caught in a system “where interest groups from both sides are pouring money in, pressuring candidates to essentially take their side in advance, before cases are even heard.”

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Report: U.S. Judicial Vacancies Mean ‘No Winners, Only Losers’

why-the-judicial-vacancy-crisis-should-matterIt’s all too frequent for the U.S. news media to portray the important work of confirming judicial nominees as an epic political battle featuring winners and losers. But there are “No Winners, Only Losers, When it Comes to Judicial Vacancies,” Andrew Cohen writes in discussing a new report.

Cohen is a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice. His article sums up a report written by the Brennan Center’s Alicia Bannon, entitled “The Impact of Judicial Vacancies on Federal Trial Courts.” Here’s a summary of the report:

“In this study, the Brennan Center interviewed more than 20 chief judges, court administrators, and practitioners from 10 districts which either currently or recently had judicial vacancies to get a firsthand account of how vacancies impact our trial courts. These judges reported that vacancies slowed the court’s ability to resolve motions and try cases, which drove up litigation costs, caused evidence to go stale, made it harder to settle civil cases, and in some instances, pressured clients to plead guilty. They also said vacancies created heavier caseloads, which meant judges had less time to spend on cases, and resulted in fewer administrative staff, which left courts unable to effectively manage dockets. Although some districts are able to compensate for empty seats, their stopgap solutions do not fix the problem and only underscore the need to fill those seats.” Read more

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Court Panels Disagree on Subsidies to Health Care Act

BULLETIN: After one appeals court dealt a potentially major blow to the federal Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite way, according to the New York Times.

Under the federal Affordable Care act, the federal government cannot subsidize insurance premiums for people participating in federal insurance exchanges, as opposed to state-run exchanges, an appeals court in the District of Columbia ruled on Tuesday.

According to USA Today, the ruling means that “participants in health exchanges run by the federal government in 34 states are not eligible for tax subsidies.” The blow to the health care law is potentially great, the newspaper said. However, “The decision is the not the last word, however, as other courts are weighing the same issue,” the New York Times reported.

The Affordable Care Act specifically authorizes subsidies when insurance is purchased “through an exchange established by the state.” President Obama’s administration contended that when the federal government set up an exchange, it was effectively established by a state because the U.S. Health and Human Services secretary was filling in for the state when setting up exchanges.

The 2-1 ruling came from a panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Report: Underfunded State Courts at ‘Tipping Point of Dysfunction’

gavel_jarofcoins“[A]dequate court funding is a smart use of the public’s resources,” say the authors of a new white paper on court budget cuts, yet “The sad reality facing America is that many of our state court systems are so poorly funded that they are at a tipping point of dysfunction.”

The report is entitled “The Economics of Justice,” and it was issued by DRI-The Voice of the Defense Bar, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

The white paper examines analyses of court funding that lead overall, according to a DRI press release, “to the inescapable conclusion that underfunding of state court systems results in the loss of hundreds of millions annually to state economies.” Read more

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Commentary: Avoid Further Secrecy on Judicial Applicants’ Names

It’s good for the public to have the names of applicants for the Kansas Supreme Court, a Wichita Eagle editorial page blog says. The writer, Rhonda Holman, says this transparency would be endangered if legislators change the state constitution to dump the current merit selection process for picking justices.

For a new vacancy on the high court, 14 people have applied for consideration by a judicial nominating commission, and they include four members of the state Court of Appeals. Holman notes that this kind of transparency was not in effect when Gov. Sam Brownback appointed a new judge to the Court of Appeals last year; the legislature had changed, by passing a new law, the process for selection of Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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JAS: Tennessee’s Turn for ‘Bare-Knuckle’ Court Campaign

Image from new Tennessee Forum ad

Image from new Tennessee Forum ad

As advertising ramps up in the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice voiced concerns on Monday about the impact on impartial courts.

A new TV ad sponsored by the Tennessee Forum states that ”The most liberal place in Tennessee … is the Tennessee Supreme Court,” and a headline adds, “Our Supreme Court Liberal on Crime,” according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

“Bare-knuckle Supreme Court campaigns have been spreading around the country, and now it’s Tennessee’s turn,” said Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, in a statement.

“The new ad is right out of the usual playbook, accusing judges of being soft on crime. As spending accelerates on both sides, yet another state court is being pressured to raise big money and answer to interest groups and politicians,” he added. Justice at Stake also reported on TV ad time purchases by the Tennessee Forum (at least $119,055) and the justices’ campaigns (at least $201,495). Read more

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N.M. Editorial: Can Judicial Selection Process Be Improved?

state-flag-new-mexicoAn unusual, hybrid process for choosing judges in New Mexico, which combines judicial screening commissions, partisan elections and retention (up-or-down) elections, has come in for editorial criticism from the Rio Rancho Observer.

“Judicial selection process leaves much to be desired,” the editorial’s headline states. It examines the recent process for filling a new district court judgeship in Sandoval County, using a judicial nominating commission followed by gubernatorial appointment; it appears the newly appointed judge will be replaced by a different, elected judge after November.

The judicial nominating commission’s vetting of candidates is valuable, the editorial says, for choosing the best-qualified judge. It continues, “But what value is its time and where is its place in the selection process if its recommendations are, in effect, set aside by a political party?”

You can learn more about New Mexico’s hybrid process for picking judges from the American Judicature Society’s “Judicial Selection in the States” website. The American Judicature Society is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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Art Pope’s Influence on Politics and Judicial Elections is Profiled

N.C. Budget Director Pope

N.C. Budget Director Pope

North Carolina budget director Art Pope, a well-heeled political donor-turned-government-official with a singular profile in American politics, is the topic of a lengthy and intriguing Washington Post profile. It prominently discusses Pope’s role in ending public financing for judicial races in the state.

Gavel Grab has mentioned Pope’s efforts last year to influence a state House vote that killed the pioneering public financing program. The Post article says because of that program’s demise, which Pope “helped end as budget director,” the political rules have changed. “Wealthy outside groups have a greater ability to affect such races” as this year’s North Carolina Supreme Court race, it says. The Post’s Matea Gold gives this description of Pope’s rise to influence: Read more

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Essay: Why We Need More Women on the U.S. Bench

It would be great to have a woman president, but perhaps it would be more valuable to put more focus on adding more women to the ranks of federal judges across America, Keli Goff writes in a Daily Beast commentary.

Although women outnumber men in the United States, “women make up only a third of the justices on the thirteen federal courts of appeal. On the third circuit they make up just 17 percent of justices, and on the eighth circuit 18 percent,” Goff writes.

There are initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in the technology field and nonprofits devoted to help women and girls pursue science careers. “So why don’t we put an increased emphasis,” she asks, “on women joining the judiciary, where they can make a more direct impact on the life of every American woman and girl? Women like Sheryl Sandberg may be great role models, but it’s judges who decide whether Facebook is legally bound to cover birth control.”

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