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NC Editorial: Strengthen Public Funding System

North Carolina’s second-largest paper editorializes today that the state’s “laudable” public financing system will continue to face challengers to its viability unless either the state’s elections board or the state legislature clarify exactly what connotes an “independent” expenditure.  The editorial cites the 2006 example of a supposedly “independent” 527 group that pumped money into drive up the name identification of four candidates, three of whom were Democrats.  The editorial notes that one of the staffers for the 527 was also a consultant to the Democratic party committee backing the three, which calls into question the apparent lack of coordination.  The Raleigh News & Observer editorial notes: “Vexing as it will be to balance sensible rulemaking with free speech rights, the effort should be made. Otherwise the 527s will run riot, nonpartisan races will take on even more political baggage and special-interest money will be able to taint the process.”

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Pakistan Approaches Deadline to Reinstate Judges

About a month ago we noted that the new government in Pakistan was resolving to reinstate the many judges deposed by President Pervez Musharraf.  The Washington Post is reporting that with the self-imposed deadline right around the corner, an agreement is still a ways off.

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Missouri House Rejects Politicizing Judicial Selection

A decisive majority of the Missouri House voted today to reject an effort to politicize the state’s first-in-the-nation model system of judicial selection. By a vote of 83-69, Missouri’s state house gave thumbs-down to a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would have put the power to pick judges squarely in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of government. The current system employs a nonpartisan commission to review applicants for many of Missouri’s judgeships, and that commission then forwards a short list of three to the governor, who makes the final choice. The voters of the state then have the opportunity to approve or reject the selection at the next general election. The “Missouri Plan” was adopted in 1940, and his since been replicated in more than 30 states. Read more…

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Newseum to Host ABA-Sponsored "Rule of Law" Town Hall Meeting

Washington, DC’s newest and glossiest museum – the Newseum – will play host to an April 30 town hall meeting on the rule of law. Pete Williams of NBC News will moderate a distinguished panel that includes Dianna Huffman, a distinguished lecturer at the Philip Merrill School of Journalism and a member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. All the details, including registration information, are on the ABA’s website.

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The Economist: Reform Wisconsin Judicial Races

This week’s print edition of The Economist (on news stands Friday) includes a good story that wraps together the complicated intertwining of the tort battles and judicial elections in Wisconsin.  The Economist cites Justice at Stake’s January survey of Wisconsin voters (a poll conducted by American Viewpoint, a respected Republican polling firm, well before the Butler-Gableman campaign got noisy) as part of the basis for this conclusion:  ”…Elections themselves are unlikely to be scrapped. More feasible would be to pass reforms, such as public financing for campaigns or stricter rules to prevent conflicts of interest. In Wisconsin politicians and Supreme Court judges all work beneath the state capitol’s giant dome. It is getting hard to tell the difference between them.”  Nicely said.

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JAS, Brennan Center Release Final Wisconsin TV Estimate

One state down. Twenty more to elect members of their high court by November.  JAS and the Brennan Center today released final numbers on television advertising in the April 1 Wisconsin Supreme Court election. The wrap is here in our joint news release. In sum: over $3.6 million spent on TV; 89 percent of the spending was by interest groups; and 59 percent of the total TV spending was behind challenger and victor Gableman, compared to only 41 percent for Butler. One additional figure not mentioned specifically in the release: Wisconsinites saw over 11,000 TV ads about either Louis Butler or Michael Gableman. Since 2006, only one other state, Alabama, has seen more…and Alabama had FOUR seats up for election at the same time.

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Incumbent Protection? Apparently Not

Knee-jerk opponents of public funding systems routinely (and mistakenly) argue that public funding protects incumbents. There is, of course, very little evidence to support this sort of claim, and a political blog in North Carolina has posted news about a challenger for the North Carolina Supreme Court who is enrolled in that state’s public funding program — and who says she would never have run without it. Suzanne Reynolds, a law professor at Wake Forest University, says: “In the past, I have resisted the urge to run. The necessity of raising exorbitant amounts of money in races that were heavily partisan kept me away.” In the same statement Reynolds announced that she has raised the maximum amount permissible from 450 registered North Carolina voters.

Reynolds faces Justice Bob Edmunds in the November election; Justice Edmunds has also announced plans to use the state’s innovative public funding system.

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ABC News Looks at West Virginia Supreme Court

ABC News “Nightline” program yesterday featured a short segment on the fallout from the revelation that a member of the West Virginia Supreme Court had vacationed with a wealthy energy executive and failed to recuse from multi-million dollar case brought by his friend until after pictures of them on a trip to the French Riviera showed up in the media. A piece on the Nightline website is available here, though I have yet to locate the streaming video version of the Nightline story. If anyone finds the video, please post it in the comments section.

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Wisconsin Election Aftermath: An Opinion Round-Up

Not surprisingly there is no shortage of opinion about what the recent Supreme Court election in Wisconsin means. Here’s a rapid-fire round up from bloggers and editorialists: The Wall Street Journal editorial page embraces both the process and the results, and apparently makes no bones about plainly misrepresenting a statement from Wisconsin’s governor, a point acknowledged even at ShopFloor, the blog of the National Association of Manufacturers. That kerfuffle prompted a post on Althouse, including lots of back and forth in the comments section. Less sanguine views of the process are not in short supply: the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Daily Cardinal are fine examples, as is this posting on the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign’s Big Money blog. Andrew Cohen, the legal analyst for CBS News, expressed his disgust for the campaign even before the polls had closed.

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Wisconsin Voters Choose Gableman

Wisconsin voters ousted Justice Louis Butler on Tuesday. It’s the first time in more than 40 years an incumbent seeking election has been defeated. Initial write-ups on the election results are at the Wisconsin State Journal and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. One item of note: voter turn-out was estimated at 20 percent, perhaps a reflection of the negative tenor of the race. Watch for more reaction and analysis from JAS and the Brennan Center shortly.

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