Gavel Grab

Judicial Election Deluge of ‘Big Political Money’ in National News

gavel_cash-300x202What could be the biggest state court election this year is beginning to attract more national news media attention. Bloomberg Businessweek has now zeroed in on the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election with an article entitled, “Big Political Money Now Floods Judges’ Races, Too.”

Businessweek highlights the activity of outside groups “known for spending to influence presidential and congressional elections.” They have bought TV and radio advertising targeting three Tennessee justices seeking a new term. The justices, appointed by a Democratic governor (see Gavel Grab for background), have raised money and fought back with their own TV ads. The article also spotlights increasing spending on once-inexpensive judicial races by outside groups since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010.

“After the Citizens United ruling, the focus on outside spending was of course on federal races,”  Denise Roth Barber, managing director of the nonpartisan National Institute on Money in State Politics, told Businessweek. “But then everybody figured out that they could do the same thing at the state races.” NIMSP is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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Limits on Collective Bargaining Upheld by Wisconsin Court

The Wisconsin Supreme Court, in a 5-2 ruling on Thursday, upheld Gov. Scott Walker’s “Act 10,” enacted by the legislature to dismantle collective bargaining for most public workers.

Justice Michael Gableman wrote for the majority, “No matter the limitations or ‘burdens’ a legislative enactment places on the collective bargaining process, collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect.”

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the opinion “found that collective bargaining over a contract with an employer is not a fundamental right for public employees under the constitution. Instead, it’s a benefit that lawmakers can extend or restrict as they see fit.”

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Professor: Public Deserves Full Story About Christie and Judges

Screen shot 2014-07-31 at 11.44.47 AMThere’s a whole lot more to New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s record on judicial nominations than a critical TV ad aired by the conservative Judicial Crisis Network (see Gavel Grab) reflects, a political science and law professor says.

Brigid Callahan Harrison, who teaches at Montclair State University, offers her rejoinder in an op-ed for The Record. Her essay delves into the details of the Republican governor’s political combat over nominations to the state Supreme Court with the Democratic-controlled state Senate, and she concludes that the ad assailing Christie over a “liberal” court is “unfair, manipulative and inaccurate.” Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg repeated, this time in an interview with Katie Couric of Yahoo News, that she has no plans to retire.
  • Paul M. Barrett predicted in Bloomberg Businessweek that the Supreme Court may revisit the Second Amendment, by taking up an appeal of a trial court’s ruling that struck down a District of Columbia prohibition on carrying guns in public, if an intermediate appeals court upholds it.
  • The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld a Wisconsin statute making it mandatory for voters to have identification before they cast a ballot, Reuters reported.
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Retired Judge Laments ‘Worst Government That Money Can Buy’

jim-nelsonThe problem of money in politics has grown so big that it seems to be “on steroids” now, laments retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James Nelson in an outspoken Helena Independent Record op-ed.

Justice Nelson takes direct aim at a line of U.S. Supreme Court cases beginning with Citizens United, saying the problem of big money overwhelming actual voters has become so great that what once was unimaginable is almost possible.

“So, what’s next?” he writes. “Will corporations and special interest PACs eventually get the right to actually vote? Why not? They’re already funding the worst government that money can buy.” Read more

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TV Report: In Heated TN Judicial Election, What Can Voters Believe?

TennesseeIn a white-hot judicial election where opposing sides are engaged in an air war with claims and counter-claims, where can the public turn to shape an informed opinion?

In advance of the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election Aug. 7, News Channel 5 poses that question, then answers it with a lengthy article about a report evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of all 23 judges up for retention, prepared by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), a largely Republican state panel.

Three Supreme Court justices, who were appointed by a Democratic governor, are seeking a new term. Their opposition is led by certain Republicans who want to remove Democrat appointees from the court. The evaluation commission recommended retaining the three but did not issue endorsements, according to News Channel 5. Read more

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Christie’s Record On Judges Coming Under Attack in New Hampshire

NJ Gov And RGA Chairman Chris Christie Appears With Iowa's Governor At Davenport FairgroundsAs a potential Republican presidential candidate prepared to visit New Hampshire, there was another sign that the intersection of politics and choosing qualified judges could become a national topic in 2016.

CNN reported that the Judicial Crisis Network, a conservative group, was preparing to launch on Wednesday a TV ad that criticizes New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie over his judicial nominations record. Judicial Crisis Network similarly ran advertising critical of Christie in Iowa earlier this month (see Gavel Grab).

“Chris Christie promised to change New Jersey’s liberal Supreme Court. Over and over he broke his promise. The court remains liberal. Call Chris Christie. Tell him to fight for judges who respect the rule of law,” a narrator says in the commercial prepared for New Hampshire’s airwaves. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • In a 2-1 ruling, a panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said a Mississippi law could not be used to close down the only abortion clinic operating in the state by requiring that its physicians get privileges to admit patients at local hospitals, the New York Times reported.
  • Lawyers for Abigail Fisher, a white University of Texas applicant whose lawsuit against the university led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, asked the full Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reconsider a new ruling by a three-judge panel that the university can consider race in its admissions, according to SCOTUSblog.
  • The Los Angeles Times reported, “Criticism arises after children are rushed to see immigration judges.”
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Another Push Ahead to Change Kansas Court Selection Method?

KS-Supreme-Court-logo200Legislators interested in changing the way Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected seized on a court ruling that overturned death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

The ruling “will likely fuel another push by conservative Republicans to give the governor and legislators more say in how the justices are chosen,” the Associated Press reported.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Republican, said that when legislators return to work in January, judicial selection will “absolutely” be a topic given the court rulings last week. He said the rulings were not surprising.

“There will always be cries for the heads of judges when they make difficult and unpopular rulings,” said Rep. John Carmichael, a Democrat.  ”It’s an imperative that we have independent courts.” Read more

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Law Professor Confirmed for Federal Appeals Bench

On a 50-43 vote, the Senate confirmed President Obama’s nomination of Pamela Harris, a visiting professor at Georgetown University Law Center, to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

According to The Hill newspaper, Republican Sen. Charles W. Grassley of Iowa opposed the nomination and said Harris’s pre-nomination record was full of “left-wing philosophy.” Sen. Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., defended the nomination while praising Harris’s qualifications and describing her as an “extraordinarily talented person.”

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