Concerns Raised by JAS, Partners After PA Ad War Erupts

With two independent groups embroiled in an ad war over candidates for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Justice at Stake and its partner organizations raised concerns.

“We knew all along we’d likely see outside involvement on both sides in this race before it was all over,” said Liz Seaton, JAS interim executive director, in a statement.  “As non-candidate groups get involved and up the ante in judicial elections, the need for real reform becomes more urgent.”

“These outside groups are driving the negativity in this race, as candidate ads remain wholly positive. They demonstrate a disturbing trend of outside groups using a justice’s record in criminal matters to discredit them, which can have real consequences for the cases coming before the courts,” said Matt Menendez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice.

“Negative ads have no place in a judicial election where voters should be focused on qualifications, not on how special interest groups or political parties demonize candidates or unpopular decisions,” added Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts.  “In advancing merit selection through the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, legislators from both sides of the aisle took the first step in getting ads like these – and money – out of the process of selecting judges.”

The Republican State Leadership Committee announced it had launched “a two-week, multi-platform ad campaign with an initial investment of more than $1 million” in the Pennsylvania race. It has posted an online ad critical of a Democratic candidate (see Gavel Grab) and another promoting Republican candidates. Ads by Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform, a group funded primarily by plaintiffs’ trial lawyers and labor unions, have accused one Republican candidate of being soft on crime, a second as opposing abortion rights, and a third of an integrity deficit.

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center said that $1.6 million in airtime spending overall has been booked through Oct. 27. An Associated Press article was headlined, “National GOP group’s ad attacks Pennsylvania judge’s record.”