Gavel Grab

JAS, Partner: Uphold WI Public Finance Law

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner, urged a federal appeals court on Friday to uphold Wisconsin’s law for public financing of state Supreme Court elections. Judges play a unique role in our governmental system, the groups said.

The two nonpartisan national reform groups said in separate amicus briefs that unlike other elected officials, judges have a duty under the Constitution’s 14th amendment to be impartial. Reforms to prevent the appearance of  judicial bias therefore represent a compelling government interest, they said.

“Judges are supposed to follow the law, not political pressure,” said Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a press release. “Americans have a constitutional right to a fair day in court, and public financing of judicial elections helps achieve that.”

“Judicial elections are vastly different from other contests, which is why Wisconsin’s Impartial Justice Act should be upheld in full,” said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel at the Brennan Center. The Impartial Justice Act provides for public financing of state Supreme Court elections.

“Money in the judiciary can lead to bias and erode public trust in the courts,” Skaggs added. “By providing public financing for judicial candidates, we can ensure judges are accountable to the law, not big money backers.”

The briefs were filed with the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case called Wisconsin Right to Life v. Brennan. Wisconsin lawmakers passed the public financing law in 2009 after spending on judicial elections had soared. Candidates and special interest groups spent more than $8.4 million in Wisconsin in judicial elections held in 2007 and 2008, the second highest total nationally for that two-year period.

Nationwide, in 22 states that elect state high courts, candidate fundraising surged to $206.9 million in 2000-2009, more than double the $83.3 million raised in the previous decade. Three Americans in four believe that campaign cash affects courtroom decisions, according to public opinion polls.

The Justice at Stake brief was co-signed by 23 public interest groups. It said public financing under the Wisconsin law “is one of the most powerful reforms shielding courts from special-interest influence.” It added, “With public financing, judges no longer must rely on support from large-dollar, special interest contributors who frequently have cases in front of the court.”

You can view the Brennan Center brief by clicking here.

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  1. […] that judges have a unique role in our government, with a constitutional duty to be impartial (see earlier Gavel Grab post). No comments  Email This […]

  2. […] Before the governor signed the budget, Justice at Stake had submitted an amicus brief urging the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold the Wisconsin law (see Gavel Grab). […]

  3. […] constitutionality of Wisconsin’s public financing law for state Supreme Court campaigns (see Gavel Grab). Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last week, both sides in a case challenging […]

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