Candidate Recuses When N.C. Court Hears Judicial Election Case

An attorney challenging a new law changing the way North Carolina Supreme Court justices are selected argued on Wednesday in front of those same justices. There was one exception; a justice who is seeking a new term in November stepped aside.

The new law would permit elected incumbent justices to seek a new term through a retention (up-or-down) election rather than a contested race. It was struck down by a lower court, and that decision quickly was appealed to the state’s highest tribunal.

The law’s challengers include Sabra Faires, an attorney running for the court in November, and two unlikely allies, the left-leaning ACLU of North Carolina and right-leaning Civitas Institute Center for Law and Freedom, according to The News & Observer.  Faires’ lawyer argued in court, and the other challengers in their briefs, that the shift requires a statewide vote on rewriting the state Constitution. This Constitution mandates that justices “shall be elected,” according to The Associated Press. (more…)

N.C. Court Weighs New Judicial Selection Law

The North Carolina Supreme Court was to hear oral argument on Wednesday in a case involving how most N.C. Supreme Court justices are elected, The Associated Press reported.

A Superior Court panel recently voided a new law giving elected Supreme Court justices an option to seek a new term in a retention, rather than contested, election (see Gavel Grab). The state elections board asked for review of that ruling, and the case was set for the state’s highest court on an expedited basis.

Melissa Price Kromm of N.C. Voters for Clean Elections wrote a commentary in The Jefferson Post saying the new law was “another brazen move to reduce the power of average North Carolinians.” Her piece recounted how the legislature also scrapped the public financing for judicial elections.  (more…)

A ‘Three-Star’ Video Helps Florida Voters in Judicial Races

It’s not very often that someone makes a video explaining how local courts work, and what counts in voting for judges, compared to all those TV spots trumpeting attack ads or “tough-on-crime” themes.

The Daytona Beach News-Journal gets credit this week for bringing to public attention a video in the former category. The newspaper editor’s commentary is headlined, “Judicial races got you bored or confused? Here’s a video.” And it links to the nuts-and-bolts explanatory video prepared by the Volusia County Bar Association and the League of Women Voters of Volusia County.

Editor Pat Rice rates the video as worth watching: “Less than five minutes long, the video provides some good tips voters can use to decide which judicial candidates to support. The cinematography’s not fancy, and the plot’s a little slow, but I’d still give it three stars. Give it a watch, and then take the time to vote in the upcoming judicial and other races.”

Under New Law, W.Va. High Court Election to be Nonpartisan

A May 10 primary will decide the five-way race for one seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court. In the run-up to the primary, The Exponent Telegram reported divergent views on the race being the first nonpartisan one since the legislature revised state law last year.

“I think they may have rushed it a bit, but I think in the long run it will be best for everybody,” local lawyer Joe Shaffer said. “The goal is to have an impartial judiciary going into office.”

But political scientist John Kilwein of West Virginia University said nonpartisan elections take away information from voters. “We know political science-wise that candidates’ party identification affects your ability to decide who you’re going to vote for,” he said. “It’s a political shortcut.” (more…)

In State Judicial Races, a Media Eye on Justice at Stake

In both Wisconsin and West Virginia, news media relied on data compiled by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice to keep readers up to date about the latest spending in state judicial elections.

JAS-LogoWhen The Wisconsin Gazette reported on “The high cost of a high court seat in Wisconsin,” it attributed a total spending sum of at least $4.3 million in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election to an analysis by JAS and its partner organization.

Following the election, in which Justice Rebecca Bradley defeated Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, JAS Executive Director Susan Liss said, “So far 2016 is off to a very rough start, as we’ve seen outside groups spend heavily and succeed in defeating two Supreme Court candidates in Arkansas, with the same thing happening in Wisconsin just weeks later. This doesn’t bode well for the judicial elections ahead this year.” (more…)

Court’s Role is ‘Not to Be Popular,’ Kansas Chief Justice Says

Chief Justice Nuss

When two justices of the Kansas Supreme Court stopped in the Marshall County Courthouse during a recent visit to northern Kansas, their topics included general openness of court proceedings to the public and the impartial role of the court, according to The Marysville Advocate. 

“We always try to make sure that people understand what our role in state government is,” Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said. “And it’s not to be popular, not to do what people want us to do. We both took an oath when we became justices to support the Constitution of the state of Kansas and the United States, and that is where our allegiance lies.”

The justices’ visit was made at a time of “increasing tensions between Kansas’ judicial branch and the executive and legislative branches,” the newspaper added. “Rightwing Republicans controlling the Legislature are unhappy with court orders to boost school funding and have threatened judicial funding in recent years. Those legislators (more…)

JAS Cited on Wisconsin Election Spending; ‘Dark Money’ a Force

Justice Bradley and Gov. Walker

Wrapping up this week’s Wisconsin Supreme Court election, the Associated Press relied on an analysis by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice to report that candidates and outside groups spent at least $4.3 million in the race.

Incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, who earlier was appointed by Gov. Scott Walker to fill a vacancy on the court, won election over Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg for a full term on the court. You can read details about the spending breakdown from Gavel Grab.

A blog of The American Prospect, meanwhile, reported that “dark money groups poured more than $2 million into the race.” It continued, “The dark money-fueled ad war gave the race an ugly undertone. The lion’s share of outside spending came from the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a conservative group with ties to Walker and the Koch brothers that has been at the center of many controversial state political battles in recent years.” (more…)

JAS: Spending on WI Court Election Totals More Than $4.3 Million

Total documented spending in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election has climbed to $4,369,787, with outside groups dominating TV ad spending, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Wednesday.

The winner was Justice Rebecca Bradley (see Gavel Grab). Her campaign benefitted from an estimated $1,851,710 on television ads by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, and $114,049 in other advertising by the Republican State Leadership Committee. An outside group supporting Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, the Greater Wisconsin Committee, spent $381,360 on television ads and $107,323 on other advertising.

“Once again, we’ve seen a state Supreme Court race in which outside spenders pouring cash into TV ad campaigns have possibly made a significant difference in the outcome,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “So far 2016 is off to a very rough start, as we’ve seen outside groups spend heavily and succeed in defeating two Supreme Court candidates in Arkansas, with the same thing happening in Wisconsin just weeks later. This doesn’t bode well for the judicial elections ahead this year.”        (more…)

Bradley Victorious Over Kloppenburg in Costly WI Court Election

Justice Bradley, left; Judge Kloppenburg, right
Justice Bradley, left; Judge Kloppenburg, right

After a contentious contest, appointed incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley defeated Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg on Tuesday in the Wisconsin Supreme Court election.

“A surge of Republicans who turned out to vote in the GOP presidential primary contest helped carry [Bradley] over the top,” The Associated Press reported. It noted that Bradley triumphed despite a wave of adverse publicity “after college articles she wrote 20 years ago bashing gays, AIDS victims and feminists surfaced.” Bradley apologized and said her opinions had changed since then.

The AP quoted data from Justice at Stake in reporting that Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, a conservative group, spent some $1.54 million in an ad blitz against Kloppenburg while The Greater Wisconsin Committee, a liberal-leaning organization, spent at least $345,000 on advertising in support of Kloppenburg. (more…)

Partisan Battles Over State Courts Grab Further National Spotlight

justice-scalesFor the second time in only several days, a major national news outlet has cast a spotlight on partisan political efforts in both state elections and in state capitals to capture control of fair and impartial courts.

“Control of state courts becomes a top political battleground,” reported The Associated Press. As did The New York Times only days earlier (see Gavel Grab), the AP’s multi-state account cited Justice at Stake for its tracking of judicial election spending. The AP published its article, published in newspapers across America, on the eve of a contentious Wisconsin Supreme Court election and with an eye on political attacks on the courts in state capitals in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri, and on court expansion efforts in Georgia and Arizona.

“State courts are the final word on a host of state law issues that have high stakes for businesses’ bottom lines, legislatures’ agendas and the rights of individuals,” said Alicia Bannon with the Brennan Center (more…)