First-Day SCOTUS Protests Garner Coverage

As the Supreme Court opened for its first day of oral arguments on October 4,  activists gathered on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court to highlight Senate Republicans’ obstruction of Judge Garland’s nomination to the Court. Coverage on TV station New York 1  featured the rally, while top news photos of the day also highlighted the visual display of signs urging Senators to “Do Your Job.”  Photo coverage appeared on the Getty images , The Nation,  and Yahoo  news websites.   Speakers at the D.C. event included Jim Obergefell, whose landmark Supreme Court case Obergefell v. Hodges affirmed marriage equality nationwide.  Organizations rallying at the Court included We Need Nine campaign organizations Alliance for Justice, Center for American Progress, People for the American Way, and The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Meanwhile, activists also gathered in multiple states for a day of action highlighting Senate Republicans’ blockade of federal judicial nominees. In each state, activists made deliveries of 92 miniature empty chairs to the local offices of GOP Senators. The chairs represent the 92 vacancies on federal courts resulting from Senate Republicans’ obstructionism of the judicial nominations process: one for the Supreme Court and each federal judicial vacancy.  Actions took place in Iowa, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Texas and Nevada.  The protests were highlighted on the Urban Milwaukee, Iowa Labor News, WHO-TV, Public News Service, and other news sites.

Photo courtesy Progress Texas.


Lynn Marks is Stepping Down at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts


Lynn A. Marks is stepping down as executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that has championed merit selection of judges in the state. A article about her departure stated:

“For 25 years, Marks has been the most consistently audible voice in the movement to change Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges to an appointment process that proponents say would limit the impact of politics on the judiciary.”

Marks will be succeeded by Maida Malone, an attorney with experience in the pharmaceutical and nonprofit sectors. Marks will continue in a consulting capacity. (more…)

In Pennsylvania, JAS Partner Decries ‘Scandal After Scandal’

law-cash-21816475While spending in Pennsylvania judicial elections has surged, citizens may be dismayed by the result, a prominent defender of fair and impartial courts says in a news article that also cited Justice at Stake.

“What’s happened is, even after this ever-increasing amount of money spent, what have Pennsylvanians gotten?” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, according to WITF.

“They’ve gotten scandal after scandal, and jurists’ campaign coffers are flowing from the very same lawyers and litigants that will appear before them.” At least $15.9 million was spent in the last Pennsylvania Supreme Court election before Election Day, the article noted, citing JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice as its source; the spending totals last year broke the previous documented record for any supreme court race in the nation. (more…)

A Salute to Our Partner Organization on its 10th Anniversary

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its work to rebuild justice across the United States. Our friends at IAALS deserve hearty applause.

In 2006, IAALS opened its doors at the University of Denver with a mission to continuously improve the American legal system and reestablish it as the aspirational model for justice around the world.

The Institute’s evolution and growth has been remarkable and is a testament to IAALS’  pioneering model. It is not just a place where problems are studied and solutions crafted, but one where action is taken and real, and positive changes are made. (more…)

Susan Liss Named as New Justice at Stake Executive Director

Justice at Stake’s Board of Directors is  pleased to announce that after a nationwide search, Susan M. Liss was selected to assume the role of Executive Director of Justice at Stake. Liss will begin a transition into her new role this month, before joining the organization full-time on February 16.

Liss brings to her new role an unparalleled combination of strong leadership, passionate commitment to issues of justice and democracy, and dedication to the cause of fair and impartial courts. She currently serves as  Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, overseeing all operations of a $34 million dollar organization with global reach. She has held numerous posts in government service, and has also previously led the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization that also works on fair-courts issues.

“We could not be more enthusiastic about the selection of Susan Liss to lead Justice at Stake at this critical juncture in its history,” said Mark Harrison, Justice at Stake Board Chair. “This choice is emblematic of an exciting new direction for JAS, and the start of a new chapter in our leadership of the fair-courts field. Under Susan’s proven leadership, we are absolutely confident that Justice at Stake can drive major and lasting reforms that will protect fair and impartial courts well into the future.”

“It is a great privilege to accept this opportunity to lead Justice at Stake as its Executive Director,” Liss said. “I have watched with great concern as our courts at all levels have come under attack by special interests, while the flow of money into judicial elections has continued to increase. JAS has grown into the most credible bipartisan organization fighting back against these harmful influences. I believe deeply in its mission, and am eager to work with the JAS staff to fight harder than ever to protect the courts that protect all our rights.”

Liss will assume Executive Director duties at JAS from Liz Seaton, the current Interim Executive Director of JAS, who will return to her prior role as Deputy Executive Director. Longtime Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg departed the organization to assume the role of President of Appleseed in August of 2015. To read a full news release, click here.

JAS Mourns Loss of Former Board Member, Landon Rowland

landonrowland_750xx750-424-0-326Justice at Stake noted with sadness that Landon Rowland, a former member of the JAS Board of Directors, died December 28 in Kansas City following a long illness.  Rowland was a staunch supporter of fair courts in addition to his many other professional and philanthropic pursuits.  The Kansas City Business Journal lauded Rowland as a “business and philanthropic giant” who “left a lasting mark” on the city. The Kansas City Star noted that Rowland led the expansion of Kansas City Southern Industries as its president and CEO, and  was instrumental in establishing the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. “Rowland also helped establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was an important supporter of the American Royal Horse Show and the American art collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,” the Star reported.

In 2013, Rowland testified in the Kansas legislature against a proposed measure to replace the state’s merit selection system for top state judges (see Gavel Grab). “We depend on a free market system. Small business depends on a fair and impartial judiciary,”  Rowland testified, according to an Associated Press article. He noted that the Kansas court system has a reputation for fair, impartial and qualified judges.

Rowland was 78.


PA News Media: Merit Commended; JAS, Partners Cited

justice-scalesHow timely that a proposal to end elections of top judges in Pennsylvania is advancing in the legislature at the same time a “parade of personal, dirty ads” has begun airing in this year’s high court election, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial said.

Endorsing a merit-based selection system as the best replacement for judicial elections, the editorial concluded, “An ineffective system, a series of scandals involving Supreme Court justices and the dirty ad campaigns should be catalysts for reform.” A state House panel voted its approval earlier this week of a merit system plan, and its action was commended as bipartisan and needed in a column.

Meanwhile the intensity of charges and countercharges amid outside spending in the court election was reflected by news articles reporting that one targeted candidate, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, dispatched a “cease-and-desist” letter to  Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform over a negative ad the letter called false and defamatory. (more…)

Concerns Raised by JAS, Partners After PA Ad War Erupts

With two independent groups embroiled in an ad war over candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice at Stake and its partner organizations raised concerns.

“We knew all along we’d likely see outside involvement on both sides in this race before it was all over,” said Liz Seaton, JAS interim executive director, in a statement.  “As non-candidate groups get involved and up the ante in judicial elections, the need for real reform becomes more urgent.”

“These outside groups are driving the negativity in this race, as candidate ads remain wholly positive. They demonstrate a disturbing trend of outside groups using a justice’s record in criminal matters to discredit them, which can have real consequences for the cases coming before the courts,” said Matt Menendez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

National Group Joins PA Court Race With Critical Advertising

PennsylvaniaThe Republican State Leadership Committee, a national group that has gotten involved in some recent judicial elections, has jumped into the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election with ads “attacking” a Democratic candidate, Newsworks reported.

The ad assailing Judge Kevin Dougherty “focuses on his role in a notorious criminal case” in which custody for a young girl was given to her aunt, a convicted murderer, and later was abused, Newsworks said. The Dougherty camp said the judge never was accused of wrongdoing and he didn’t know about the aunt’s history.

Decrying the ad was Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, as she condemned earlier TV ads that attacked Republican candidates. “We’ve seen this now from both sides,” Marks said. “We feel equally as strongly, whether it’s the Republican State Leadership Committee or another group. These negative ads serve no purpose other than discouraging voters from carefully evaluating judicial candidates.” (more…)