Gavel Grab

Archive for October, 2012

Alabama Supreme Court Hopeful Endorsed By Former Justices

On Tuesday, Alabama Supreme Court candidate Bob Vance released a letter signed by ten former and current justices from both parties endorsing Vance over “Ten Commandments Judge” Roy Moore in the November 6 election, according to the Associated Press.

In the letter, Vance is commended as a hard-working judge who has a great respect for “the citizens of Alabama, the rule of law and the judges and justices who are elected or appointed to the federal and state courts.”

Among the ten who signed the letter were Douglas Johnstone, Gorman Houston, Bernard Harwood and Justice Tom Woodall, who all were on the court when Moore was removed as chief justice in November of 2003. Read more

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North Carolina Judicial Race Spending Could Break Record

The race to fill a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court may be “on pace to shatter all earlier spending records for a state supreme court seat,” reports a Facing South article.

Much of the money is coming from the N.C. Judicial Coalition, the super PAC that recently raised $1.6 million to promote its “Paul Newby: Tough but Fair” ad (see Gavel Grab). According to the article, the N.C. Judicial Coalition received the majority of its money, $720,000, from a group called Justice for all N.C., with other contributions coming from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco and the N.C. Chamber. Read more

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Washington Post: Florida Court Race a ‘High-Stakes Political Contest’

Just how hard-fought has the battle over retention of three Florida Supreme Court justices become? A Washington Post article puts the judicial election almost in a category by itself:

“Apart from the battle for the state’s prized electoral votes and aside from the roiling campaign for a U.S. Senate seat, Florida is experiencing a high-stakes political contest unlike any it has ever seen.”

On one side, Americans for Prosperity — founded by the Koch brothers — along with the state GOP and a grassroots have targeted the justices over a few rulings in controversial cases, accusing them of judicial activism. On the other, defenders of the justices denounce what they view as a court-packing plan and partisan power grab to take over the only branch of Florida’s government not controlled by the GOP.

The judges have traveled the state and talked primarily about preserving the merit-based judicial selection system through which they were first chosen.

“The people of Florida deserve a judicial branch that is not beholden to big guys or little guys, to big money or no money, to agendas of any kind,” one of the three, Justice Fred Lewis, told Read more

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Race for Eastern Kentucky’s State Supreme Court Seat Gets Ugly

Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Will T. Scott narrowly won a judicial race eight years ago against then Supreme Court Justice Janet Stumbo. The two are once again running against each other in this year’s election, and the rematch “is no nicer,” a Lexington Herald-Leader article says.

In his TV advertisements, Scott has accused Stumbo “of being soft on crime.” One such ad says that Stumbo voted to overturn the convictions of two black men for murdering a pregnant woman.

Stumbo is running an ad which says Scott voted against convicting a man of abusing his three children for confining them to their rooms without food, water or access to a bathroom.

The Kentucky Judicial Campaign Conduct Committee, which encourages judicial candidates to avoid false advertising, called Scott’s ad misleading because the images of pregnant white women it used were not involved in the case, the article reports. Read more

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TV Ad Accuses Candidate of Offering Help to Terror Suspects

Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget McCormack is criticized in a new television campaign ad for offering to provide legal representation to detainees suspected of terrorism held at Guantanamo Bay, the Detroit Free Press says.

In the ad, a mother of a Flint soldier who was killed in Afghanistan decries McCormack’s offer to “represent and help free suspected terrorists.”

Liz Boyd, spokeswoman for McCormack, decried the ad as “last-minute mud-slinging by a special interest group outside of Michigan” in the state’s judicial election.

A Washington, D.C.-based legal advocacy group called the Judicial Crisis Network is sponsoring the ad, the article reports. Stu Sandler, former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, says spending on the ad will be more than $1 million.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Richard Epstein, a professor at NYU Law School, hypothesizes about the economic impact of the Supreme Court in an LA Times op-ed. “Unless faulty economic policies that have received Supreme Court blessing are scaled back, the economic bad times will continue apace, no matter what our monetary and fiscal policy,” Epstein writes.
  • In the race for a seat on the Mississippi Supreme Court, former state legislator Earle Banks has emphasized the importance of not taking money from special interest groups as a key to his campaign. His rival, Chief Justice Bill Waller, says that while he has no control over which super PAC donates money to his campaign, it will not affect his ability to rule impartially, a Jackson Clarion Ledger article reports.
  • Montana Supreme Court candidate Laurie McKinnon wrote that “negative advertising has no place in a nonpartisan race,” in a news releases disavowing negative ads run against her opponent, Ed Sheehy. According to The Missoulian, Sheehy called on McKinnon to denounce the ads  based on the state code of judicial conduct.
  • Ohio Supreme Court Justice Robert Cupp emphasized the court’s independent, nonpartisan role at a Seneca County Republican Party Central Committee dinner, according to the Tiffin Advertiser Tribune. “We don’t represent any political party; we don’t represent interest groups,” said Cupp. “Our oath is to apply the law as it is to the facts that come before the court.”

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Article: Will Special-Interest Spending Harm Iowa Courts?

With more than $405,000 spent by opposing sides in the Iowa Supreme Court retention (yes-or-no) election of Justice David Wiggins, a Des Moines Register article explores whether special interest spending may erode public trust in fair courts.

“When you add money and the influence that money comes with into the judicial retention process, you taint that process,” said Connie Ryan Terrell, head of  Justice Not Politics, an Iowa group.  “Our courts are supposed to be as apolitical as possible. They are supposed to make their decisions based on the Constitution … It’s not supposed to be about popular political opinion.”

Said Charles Hall, formerly a spokesman for Justice at Stake, “We’ve done a ton of polling … and three Americans in four believe that campaign cash influences courtroom decisions.  In other words, most Americans believe that courtroom justice is for sale.”

Justice Wiggins is facing an anti-retention campaign by social conservatives upset over the court’s unanimous ruling in 2009 that permitted same-sex couples to marry. In a historic 2010 retention election, three of his colleagues were swept off the court. Read more

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Wall Street Journal: ‘Supreme Showdown’ in MI Court Election

The stakes are high in this year’s Michigan Supreme Court election as labor unions seek “to depose conservative justices” on Election Day and the tort bar wants to shift the currently right-leaning, 4-3 court to the left, a Wall Street Journal editorial opines.

In an editorial entitled “Michigan’s Supreme Showdown,” the Journal states that “[t]he court is a particular union target” this year. Voters will decide Proposal 2,  a statewide ballot initiative intended to protect collective bargaining rights. If it passes, unions want to challenge the legality of a raft of state laws, the editorial says, and “Big Labor wants its judges making the calls.”

The editorial mentions a report by the Michigan Campaign Finance Network of candidate fundraising of $2.26 million so far this cycle. MCFN, a JAS partner group, said this week it expected the contest for three seats on the high court to end up as “the nation’s most expensive and least transparent judicial election campaign in 2012″ (see Gavel Grab).

A recent analysis by Justice at Stake and another JAS partner group, the Brennan Center for Justice, ranked Michigan ahead of all other states for TV ad spending so far in judicial elections this year, at $3.5 million.

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • In the race for a seat on an Illinois appellate court, Democratic candidate Judy Cates has been asked to pull an ad she put out attacking her opponent, Steve McGlynn.  According to the Associated Press, the ad accused McGlynn of “rubber stamping” foreclosure orders, forcing families out of their homes.
  • In Montana, American Tradition Partnership’s “secret spending shows how easy it is to hide donors and corrupt the political process,” states a New York Times op-ed.  The op-ed is titled “Dark Money in Montana.”

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‘Most Expensive,’ ‘Least Transparent’ Court Election: Michigan

A staggering 75 percent of all spending the Michigan Supreme Court election is hidden from public view, as it falls outside the state’s campaign finance disclosure requirements, the Michigan Campaign Finance Network said.

The nonpartisan watchdog, a Justice at Stake partner group, lamented in a statement that the contest “appears to be headed for the notorious distinction of being the nation’s most expensive and least transparent judicial election campaign in 2012.”

Michigan’s political parties will spend an estimated $10 million by Nov. 6 on Supreme Court “issue” advertising, but they haven’t disclosed that spending or the donors of the funds that supported it, MCFN said.  Meanwhile, the candidates have reported raising a combined $2,735,178, and the political parties and PACs have reported independent expenditures of $679,094.

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