Gavel Grab

Money for Campaigns, Not for the Poor in Alabama

Judicial elections in Alabama have always caught the nation’s eye,  due to the enormous sums spent each campaign season.

In two recent Birmingham News articles, new Alabama State Bar President J. Mark White has offered an interesting new perspective on skewed priorities. He notes that more money is raised  in Alabama to elect a few Supreme Court justices than to provide legal counsel to low-income people in civil cases.

 The comparison is made in a July 20 profile on White, and in a July 23 editorial column. As the editorial notes, White has pledged:

To change the way Alabama selects judges, a reform he says is needed because our expensive, partisan elections have fueled a perception, rightly or wrongly, that justice is for sale.

To find a way to increase the money available for legal services for the poor. Alabama ranks behind every other state and even Puerto Rico in providing legal services to the poor, White said.

White offered one comparison that linked the issues and put the problem into shocking focus: In 2006, he said, 15 state judicial candidates spent more than $17 million on their campaigns. That same year, less than $7 million was spent on providing legal services for the poor in civil court.

In Alabama, all money for judicial elections and civil representation for the poor is raised through private contributions.

The American Bar Association’s president-elect, H. Thomas Wells Jr., also hails from Birmingham, and he too has voiced concerns about campaign spending in court elections. In a column published in September 2007, Wells issued a call for judicial selection reform.  

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NC Editorial: Strengthen Public Funding System

North Carolina’s second-largest paper editorializes today that the state’s “laudable” public financing system will continue to face challengers to its viability unless either the state’s elections board or the state legislature clarify exactly what connotes an “independent” expenditure.  The editorial cites the 2006 example of a supposedly “independent” 527 group that pumped money into drive up the name identification of four candidates, three of whom were Democrats.  The editorial notes that one of the staffers for the 527 was also a consultant to the Democratic party committee backing the three, which calls into question the apparent lack of coordination.  The Raleigh News & Observer editorial notes: “Vexing as it will be to balance sensible rulemaking with free speech rights, the effort should be made. Otherwise the 527s will run riot, nonpartisan races will take on even more political baggage and special-interest money will be able to taint the process.”

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The Economist: Reform Wisconsin Judicial Races

This week’s print edition of The Economist (on news stands Friday) includes a good story that wraps together the complicated intertwining of the tort battles and judicial elections in Wisconsin.  The Economist cites Justice at Stake’s January survey of Wisconsin voters (a poll conducted by American Viewpoint, a respected Republican polling firm, well before the Butler-Gableman campaign got noisy) as part of the basis for this conclusion:  ”…Elections themselves are unlikely to be scrapped. More feasible would be to pass reforms, such as public financing for campaigns or stricter rules to prevent conflicts of interest. In Wisconsin politicians and Supreme Court judges all work beneath the state capitol’s giant dome. It is getting hard to tell the difference between them.”  Nicely said.

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4/10/08: A Look at the News, According to JAS

Memo Proves Detention Is Illegal, Attorneys Say – The Washington Post
Interesting article about the possible illegality surrounding Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri’s detention.

Read more…

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Incumbent Protection? Apparently Not

Knee-jerk opponents of public funding systems routinely (and mistakenly) argue that public funding protects incumbents. There is, of course, very little evidence to support this sort of claim, and a political blog in North Carolina has posted news about a challenger for the North Carolina Supreme Court who is enrolled in that state’s public funding program — and who says she would never have run without it. Suzanne Reynolds, a law professor at Wake Forest University, says: “In the past, I have resisted the urge to run. The necessity of raising exorbitant amounts of money in races that were heavily partisan kept me away.” In the same statement Reynolds announced that she has raised the maximum amount permissible from 450 registered North Carolina voters.

Reynolds faces Justice Bob Edmunds in the November election; Justice Edmunds has also announced plans to use the state’s innovative public funding system.

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Candidates Signing up for NC Public Financing

For the third consecutive cycle, a majority of court candidates eligible to participate in North Carolina’s judicial public financing program plan to do so. Eleven of 16 candidates for Supreme Court and Court of Appeals will be attempting to qualify for public funds. Under the system, candidates must collect a minimum amount of money from a set number of registered voters and place first or second in the May 6 primary in order to qualify for funding in the general election. “It’s a good sign that candidates view it as a real alternative, whether they are Democrat, Republican, women, men, black, white, challengers, incumbents,” says Bob Hall, of Democracy North Carolina, a Justice at Stake partner.

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3/6/08 – Public Financing, Wanted All Over the Country

Judicial fairness at stake in ’08 – Park Rapids Enterprise
Many Minnesotans want the Judicial Elections to be . Here is an editorial that explains their position.

Maynard Favors Public Financing of Elections – The Intelligencer: Wheeling News-Register
West Virginia Justice Maynard has come out as a proponent for Public Financing in Judicial campaigns. This article has quotes from Justice Maynard that explain his stance

Judge seeks right to be openly political – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
A Milwaukee Judge is challenging a Wisconsin rule that prohibits judges from being apart of a political party.

State Supreme Court takes up same-sex marriage – WTOP Radio
The District of Columbia will get one more crack at the controversial hand gun case. The second hearing will take place in two weeks.

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2/28/08: The Constitutionality of Terrorism Trials; Public Financing in Wisconsin?; Michigan is Starting to Heat Up

Monroe County will appeal court’s recognition of same-sex marriage – Wellsville Daily Reporter
Monroe County New York may be the scene for the next same-sex marriage debate involving the courts after the local government’s appeal yesterday.

The Right to Counsel, in the Right Situations – The New York Times
Adam Liptak takes a look at the Constitutionality surrounding Zacarias Moussaoui’s trial of a few years ago.

House GOP to decide if taxes fund Wisc. SC elections – Legal Newsline
The debate rages on in the Wisconsin Legislature over using public funds for Supreme Court campaigns. Here is an article taking a look at the bill sitting in the Wisconsin legislature at the moment.

Rita Jacobs: Time to reform court corrupted by money – Lansing State Journal
An OP-Ed piece on the need for changes in the Michigan Supreme Court election system.

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2/27/08: Justice at Stake in West Virgina; Who Would Barack Obama Nominate for the Supreme Court?; and More…

Clean elections update in West Virginia– West Virginia Blue
The fight for Clean Elections in West Virginia are underway and being helped by Justice at Stake’s own, Eamonn Donovan.

Who Would Barack Obama Nominate to the Supreme Court?– The Volokoh Conspiracy
This blog post compiles a set of quotes by Sen. Barack Obama concerning who he would nominate to the Supreme Court if he were to be elected president of the United States.

Pay for campaigns with public money– Jackson City Patriot
An editorial discussing the need for Public Financing of Supreme Court Campaigns in Michigan.

Another amendment, another hearing, more of the same debate on the judicial selection process– Prime Buzz
Another day, another hearing about Judicial Selection in Missouri’s legislature. And just like before, not much will come out of it again.

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Wisconsin Public Funding Gets Push

Justice at Stake teamed up today with the Committee for Economic Development and The Reform Institute at a news conference in Madison to push for judicial public funding in Wisconsin.  Last week, the state Senate passed the measure; the Assembly is expected to be a tougher nut to crack, because of stiffer ideological opposition to public funding (those opponents might want to look at our recent poll showing very conservative voters supporting reform).  The groups’ joint press release calling for action by the Assembly is here, and the Associated Press has this story.

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