Gavel Grab

AP: Concerns Over Money in MT Judicial Elections; JAS Featured

Big money, especially from outside sources, is becoming a hot issue in Montana’s judicial elections, according to an Associated Press article that also features Justice at Stake’s spotlighting the money pouring into these elections nationwide.

District Judge Dirk Sandefur already has raised $157,000 and his opponent, adjunct law professor Kristen Juras $43,000 in their race for the Montana high court this year, and this race is grabbing national attention.  “What makes democracy stable is an independent judiciary. Instead, we’ve got groups trying to buy the judicial branch, and it’s very worrisome,” said retired University of Montana law professor Gregory Munro. He bemoaned “a flood of dark money coming in.”

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010 has stoked concerns about unlimited spending by corporations and independent political groups in elections to include judicial races, JAS Communications Director Laurie Kinney told the AP, and about $38 million has been spent by independent groups and special interests on judicial elections since 2011. “Citizens United added fuel to the fire, but that fire was already burning,” Kinney said.

The article also mentions the spending of $1.3 million on TV ads by groups seeking to influence the Arkansas Supreme Court election, held this week (see Gavel Grab). There are calls for reform in Arkansas, including a move to a merit-based appointment system to replace judicial elections. Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, sums up recent legislative proposals there.

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