Gavel Grab

Archive for July, 2010

Companies Queried on Political Spending Plans

A Washington-based nonprofit group is asking top U.S. companies to reveal their policies and plans on independent expenditures in advance of the upcoming midterm elections.

In a letter dated July 29 to all members of the S&P 500 Index, the Center for Political Accountability and more than 30 shareholder advocates and groups made the request and cited the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in January.

The 5-4 ruling opened the door to unlimited corporate and labor union spending to support or oppose political candidates through independent expenditures.

Not only are shareholders concerned in general about the risks posed by corporate political spending, but “the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last January in the Citizens United case heightens our concern,” the letter said. The letter was the topic of an article in the monthly newsletter of the Center, which works to bring transparency and accountability to corporate political spending.

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'Weakened Courts' from Judicial Election Ruling?

In the Midwest, federal appeals court decisions have stirred up concerns about higher-spending, increasingly politicized judicial elections in at least two states.

An Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision cited free speech protections in overturning Minnesota’s limits on fundraising and endorsements by judicial candidates (see Gavel Grab).

The ruling “clears the way for bigger spending in what are typically sleepy judicial races at the bottom of the ballot,” according to an Associated Press article. In dissent, Judge Kermit E. Bye wrote:

“The court today has unnecessarily weakened our courts — and ultimately, I fear, weakened our democracy.”

In Ohio, a newly filed lawsuit asks a federal court to throw out Ohio’s limits on judges advertising their party affiliations or personally soliciting campaign donations, after the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned similar rules in Kentucky (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Hate Mail, Death Threats for AZ Judge

A federal judge has received hate mail and death threats after she put the most controversial parts of Arizona’s immigration law on hold. Her decision thrust her into a national spotlight.

Federal District Judge Susan R. Bolton halted the most controversial parts of the law from taking effect (see Gavel Grab). On Thursday, Arizona asked the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to lift her order.

The U.S. Marshals Service in Phoenix said the judge got death threats as emotions ran high over the divisive ruling, and demonstrators took to the streets, according to a New York Times article.

Some messages sent to Judge Bolton by phone calls and e-mails were positive but others were “from people venting and who have expressed their displeasure in a perverted way,” the Associated Press quoted David Gonzales, the U.S. Marshal for Arizona, as saying.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican, said on the Fox News program Fox & Friends that the judge was “in many ways is responsible” if “anyone in Arizona gets hurt during this intervening period,” according to Media Matters for America, a media watchdog group. Here are Gingrich’s words, as reported by Media Matters: Read more

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Controversial Judge: ‘Unhinged’ or ‘Impeccable’?

Federal District Judge Susan Bolton (photo at right) came under withering criticism from some foes for her ruling that enjoined the most controversial sections of Arizona’s new immigration law from taking effect (see Gavel Grab).

In Human Events, Ben Shapiro assailed her as “Example No. 1A in the pantheon of judicial activism” and added:

“Not only did she decide to purposefully misread Arizona’s immigration law, she also willfully blinded herself to basic fact.  Her ruling today was utterly unhinged and untethered from reality.”

A Washington Times editorial took a similar tack, saying, “Judge Bolton’s judicial activism is out of step with the law, out of step with politics and out of step with the good of the country.”

Republican J.D. Hayworth, running against Sen. John McCain for the GOP Senate nomination, said the judge had “gutted” the law. He went on, “The vast majority of Americans and Arizonans want this law implemented and the judge’s action simply circumvents the people’s will,” CBS News reported.

An article in the Wall Street Journal, however, stated that Judge Bolton “based her findings on court precedents that support federal pre-emption of state laws found to conflict with or infringe upon federal authority.”

And although Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona said yesterday he was disappointed by Judge Bolton’s ruling, she was nominated by President Bill Clinton upon Kyl’s recommendation, according to the ThinkProgress blog. Kyl reportedly testified about her “expertise and fairness.”

Superior Court Judge Bethany Hicks told the Arizona Republic about Judge Bolton, “Everything she does is impeccable.” Judge Hicks said,  “That’s kind of her nickname. We call her ‘Impeccable’ because that’s how she is,” according to a CBS News blog post.

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MN Limits on Judicial Candidates Overturned

A three-judge federal appeals court has struck down Minnesota rules that bar judicial candidates from endorsing candidates for elective office and from directly soliciting campaign money given by individuals and small groups.

The ruling represented a major victory for lawyer Greg Wersal (photo at left), currently a candidate for the Minnesota Supreme Court who is running against Justice Helen Meyer, according to an article by Minnesota Lawyer Blog.

He has crusaded to eliminate limits on judicial campaigns, and the challenges that he brought “have eviscerated the framework for the vast majority of the restrictions,” according to the blog.

For the two-judge majority of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel, Judge Clarence Arlen Beam wrote, “[W]e think the Constitution favors strict recusal standards and fewer speech restrictions.” The opinion, released Thursday, is available by clicking here.

Judge Kermit E. Bye dissented, writing, “[W]here a state has crafted its restrictions carefully to maintain a fair and impartial judiciary, in both practice and appearance, as Minnesota has done here, the First Amendment must yield.”

“This is a major victory toward the goal of holding judges accountable through free, open and competitive elections,” Wersal declared.

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Obama to Senate: 'We Need Judges'

President Obama hasn’t talked much in public about judicial politics, but this week he spoke out about the importance of getting Senate confirmation votes on nominees who have long awaited them.

“Most of these folks were voted out of committee unanimously, or nearly unanimously, by both Democrats and Republicans,” Obama said, according to The Blog of Legal Times.

“Both Democrats and Republicans agreed that they were qualified to serve. Nevertheless, some in the minority have used parliamentary procedures time and again to deny them a vote in the full Senate.”

“If we want our judicial system to work, if we want to deliver justice in our courts, then we need judges on our benches,” Obama added. “I hope that in the coming months, we’ll be able to work together to ensure a timelier process in the Senate.”

For the latest scorecard on Obama’s nominees and their confirmation in the Senate, see this recent Gavel Grab post.

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Judge Blocks Key Parts of AZ Immigration Law

A federal judge has enjoined the most controversial sections of Arizona’s new immigration law from taking effect.

With the law scheduled to take effect Thursday, Judge Susan Bolton put on hold sections of it that call for police to check an individual’s immigration status while enforcing other laws and that require immigrants to carry their legal papers all of the time, according to a New York Times article.

“Preserving the status quo through a preliminary injunction is less harmful than allowing state laws that are likely pre-empted by federal law to be enforced,” Judge Bolton said. Her opinion is available here (with thanks to The Blog of Legal Times). The judge added:

“There is a substantial likelihood that officers will wrongfully arrest legal resident aliens. By enforcing this statute, Arizona would impose a ‘distinct, unusual and extraordinary’ burden on legal resident aliens that only the federal government has the authority to impose.” Read more

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Without Disclosure Bill, 'Mud Fight' Ahead?

Senate Republicans drew condemnation in two newspaper editorials for blocking a bill to require disclosure by corporations and labor unions of their political spending (see Gavel Grab).

“Senate Republicans made sure this fall’s elections will be drenched in corporate money,” said a San Francisco Chronicle editorial. “Get ready for a high-spending mud fight this fall as business groups exploit the [Supreme Court’s Citizens United] ruling and take advantage of low polling numbers for Democrats.”

A New York Times editorial was headlined, “Keeping Politics in the Shadows.” Foes of the measure, the editorial said, “want the right to poison the political atmosphere without being held accountable for their speech.”

The editorial added that supporters of the measure, called The DISCLOSE Act, didn’t help their cause by adding several unnecessary provisions that attracted Republican opposition. Read more

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JAS Signs Letter Opposing Detainee Transfer Ban

Today, House Democrats and the full Senate were sent a letter that opposes a blanket ban on transfers of Guantanamo detainees to the United States. Justice at Stake and a JAS partner group, The Constitution Project, were among fifteen organizations that signed the letter.

A full ban on transfers would deny detainees admittance to the United States, regardless of purpose, and would undermine America’s anti-terrorism effort, the letter said.

“A blanket ban on transfers would restrict the Obama administration’s ability to employ what has been one of the most valuable and effective counterterrorism tools available – criminal prosecutions in regular federal courts,” the letter said. It cited the more than 400 individuals who have been successfully convicted of terrorism-related cases, as well as the on-going trial of Ahmed Ghailani, a former Guantanamo detainee charged with terrorism crimes, in the Southern District of New York.

The House is expected to consider a blanket ban on Guantanamo detainee transfers this afternoon while the military construction appropriations bill is on the House floor. Gavel Grab will provide an update later today.

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Controversy Over MN Corporate Spending

Target Corp.’s donations totaling $150,000 to a group supporting the GOP candidate for governor in Minnesota have sparked controversy.

Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel told employees that Target is “unwavering” in support of the gay community, according to an Associated Press article, which noted concerns raised by gay Target employees. The GOP candidate, Tom Emmer, is a staunch conservative and opposes gay marriage. The group supporting him, MN Forward, is running ads backing Zemmer.

“We rarely endorse all advocated positions of the organizations or candidates we support, and we do not have a political or social agenda,” Steinhafel said.

Under the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporations and labor unions can spend unlimited sums to support or oppose political candidates with independent advertising. The impact of that decision is not clear.

“This is the leading edge,”  Ed Bender, who heads the National Institute on Money in State Politics, told AP.

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