Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Justice at Stake’ Category

Kansas Senate Approves Judicial Impeachment Bill by 21-19 Vote

Capitol-from-NWThe Kansas Senate narrowly approved on Tuesday by a 21-19 vote, for final passage, a bill expanding grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices to include their attempting to usurp the legislature’s authority, according to The Topeka Capital-Journal. Justice at Stake spoke out against the bill, which has not yet received a vote in the Kansas House.

“This bill is an affront to democracy and should be offensive to every Kansan,” said Susan Liss, JAS executive director, according to a different Capital-Journal article. “It is nothing more than a transparent effort by legislators to punish the Kansas Supreme Court for daring to do its job. Could this be any more self-serving? Like earlier iterations of this bill, the latest version is clearly unconstitutional.”

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Democrat, said the bill represented on the judiciary for its opinions that upset some Republicans on school finance, capital punishment and abortion. “It’s an election year,” Hensley said. “It’s a popular sport to beat up on the Supreme Court. It makes people feel good. We’re going to go after the black robes.” Read more

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TV Advertising Heats Up Ahead of Wisconsin Court General Election

In advance of the Wisconsin Supreme Court election April 5, TV advertising in the contest has ramped up quickly, with contract buys for the general election reaching at least $573,145 so far, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Wednesday.

Here are the general election totals so far for ad purchasing: incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, at least $79,885; Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg, at least $47,280; and the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform, booking ads opposing Kloppenburg, at least $445,980.

When added to TV ad purchases for the earlier primary, total TV spending to date is at least $1,296,745.

“While candidates are jumping into the fray with their own TV ads, this Supreme Court election remains dominated by outside spending,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “We’ve also seen the emergence of crime-themed ads and attack ads, which are all too common in judicial elections nationwide. Unfortunately, Wisconsinites are likely to get a heavy dose of these themes before Election Day.” Read more

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JAS: Keep Partisan Politics Out of Process for Filling Court Vacancy

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169Upon President Obama’s announcement today of his nomination of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Merrick Garland for the U.S. Supreme Court, Justice at Stake called for keeping partisan politics out of the process for filling the vacancy.

“In this heated political season, it is absolutely critical that we work to keep partisan politics out of the process for filling the Supreme Court vacancy created by Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “The Senate has a constitutional duty to provide advice and consent in this process, and we expect the Senate to do its job and fulfill that obligation.”

“We have seen an alarming trend toward politicized judicial selection in all our courts, from the states to Washington, D.C. Respect for the Supreme Court must not be compromised by partisan wrangling. The stakes are too high.” Read more

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Legislative Committee Rejects End to MD Circuit Court Elections

A House committee in Maryland has rejected several bills proposing an end to state Circuit Court elections. The Judiciary Committee issued unfavorable reports on the bills, according to MarylandReporter.com.

At a hearing of the committee last month, Justice at Stake testified in support of the legislation and recommended a series of steps to ensure the impartiality and fairness of these courts (see Gavel Grab).

“On behalf of Justice at Stake, I testify in support of changing the way that Maryland selects its circuit court judges to one based in the best practices for merit selection as practiced across the country. Moving away from contested elections for circuit court judges will reduce political influence in our courts, helping to ensure that the courts can protect the rights of everyone who comes before them,” testified JAS Director of State Affairs Debra Erenberg then.

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JAS Decries ‘Political Attack’ That Mirrors Tactics in States

 

Image from new ad

Image from new ad

New advertising airing in Washington, D.C., that is critical of a potential Supreme Court nominee copies a pattern long seen in state Supreme Court elections, Justice at Stake said on Monday.

The radio and TV ad sponsored by the Judicial Crisis Network cites a case in which Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Jane Kelly of Iowa, in a former post as a public defender, represented a client accused of child pornography charges (see Gavel Grab).

“This ad takes a page right out of the playbook that partisan outside groups have used to attack candidates for state Supreme Courts for years,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “It is incredibly common for the ads to take complicated cases or opinions and distort them for shock value. This approach does not inform the people nor help the process in any real way. We are very disappointed to see this kind of political attack surface prior to  the U.S. Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process.”

JCN also has aired ads in state Supreme Court races.

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JAS Tracking of Campaign Ad Spending Featured in West Virginia

WV-Supreme-Court-SealWith five candidates seeking a seat on the West Virginia Supreme Court in an election on May 10, one candidate has begun buying TV advertising time, The West Virginia Record reports, citing data from Justice at Stake (see Gavel Grab).

The campaign of former state legislator Bill Wooton purchased TV ad contracts worth at least $28,380. He is competing in a race for the seat currently held by Justice Brent Benjamin, who is seeking re-election. Also running are attorney Wayne King, former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Jr., and attorney Beth Walker. West Virginia’s Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan, and provide the opportunity for candidates to use public financing for their campaigns.

The Record also cited election spending history: “Justice at Stake said the total costs for the 2012 West Virginia Supreme Court race for two seats reached almost $3.7 million. Of that, nearly $1.3 million was spent on television ads. It also notes that the most expensive West Virginia Supreme Court election was in 2004 when total costs were over $6 million in a race for one seat. Benjamin was elected in that race, defeating incumbent Justice Warren McGraw, who is Darrell McGraw’s brother.”

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JAS: First Reports of TV Ad Time Buys in W.Va. Court Race

West_Virginia_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Based on public FCC records, Justice at Stake reported on Friday the first purchases of TV advertising time in a five-way race for a single West Virginia Supreme Court seat, scheduled for May 10.

The campaign of former state legislator William “Bill” Wooten purchased TV ad contracts worth at least $28,380. He is competing in a race for the seat currently held by Justice Brent Benjamin, who is seeking re-election. Also vying for the seat are attorney Wayne King, former state Attorney General Darrell McGraw, Jr., and attorney Beth Walker. West Virginia’s Supreme Court elections are nonpartisan, and provide the opportunity for candidates to use public financing for their campaigns.

“West Virginia has put important reforms in place with its judicial public financing system, and by making Supreme Court elections nonpartisan,” said JAS Executive Director Susan Liss. “The state has certainly been in the public spotlight for spending and advertising in these elections in the years before reform. We’ll be watching closely to see what happens this year.”

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Judicial Selection Study Planned in Arkansas

stock-footage-arkansas-flag-loopThe Arkansas Bar Association, moving in the wake of state Supreme Court elections that saw heavy outside group spending, has set up a panel to examine whether the state should change how it picks judges.

An Arkansas Online article reported the development and quoted Justice at Stake Director of State Affairs Debra Erenberg as saying Arkansas is one of a handful of states looking at how judges are selected and the impact of “dark money” spending on judicial campaigns.

The panel will look at how to reduce the influence of “dark money” funded attack ads, and more rigorous rules for judges disqualifying from hearing cases that involve their donors, Bar Association President Eddie Smith said. Read more

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JAS: TV Ad Spending in Ohio Court Primary Race is Low

A Republican primary race for the Ohio Supreme Court has remained quiet, with TV ad contracts booked by a single candidate totaling $87,356, Justice at Stake said on Thursday. With days to go before the March 15 primary election, Judge Pat Fischer’s campaign is the only one currently airing ads.

The primary contest pits Judge Fischer and Court of Appeals Judge Colleen O’Toole against each other. Several other candidates do not face primary challengers: Court of Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell, a Democrat, is not facing a primary challenger and will face the winner of the Fischer-O’Toole primary in the general election. Court of Appeals Judge Pat DeWine, a Republican, and Court of Appeals Judge Cynthia Rice, a Democrat, do not face primary challengers in their contest for another open seat. Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor will run unopposed. Read more

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Editorials Scald Judicial Impeachment Bill in Kansas

A torrent of scalding editorials is greeting a proposal by Kansas legislators to expand the grounds for impeachment of state Supreme Court justices. The proposal is grabbing national attention too, with a piece in Esquire quoting concerns raised by Justice at Stake (see Gavel Grab). Here’s a roundup:

  • Charles Pierce excoriates in Esquire the conservative “experiment in Kansas” and its appetite for power; Justice at Stake’s Director of State Affairs Debra Erenberg is quoted as saying, “The attacks on the courts in Kansas have definitely been coming faster and more furious than in other states.”
  • Kansas City Star editorial: “This latest assault on the judiciary smacks of desperation. … [T]his bill isn’t about fairness. It is about intimidating judges and diminishing the chances for Kansas citizens to successfully contest legislative actions in court. … Other lawmakers with a greater respect for our foundation of government should deny [sponsors] this power grab.”
  • Wichita Eagle editorial: The bill “is the latest act of aggression by the state’s conservative legislative leaders and governor against the independent, impartial judiciary. … Setting the measure aside would signal that the legislative branch properly respects both its role and the judiciary’s.”
  • Manhattan Mercury editorial: “If [legislators] could set their egos aside and realize the harm this latest venture would cause, they would drop it and realize they won’t have a conflict with the Supreme Court if they heed the Constitution.”
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