Gavel Grab

JAS: New Ad Buys in Two States With Court Elections Soon

There are increasing signs of TV ad wars in two states holding elections for state supreme court seats early this year, Wisconsin and Arkansas, according to tracking data gathered by Justice at Stake and released on Friday.

In Wisconsin’s Feb. 16 Supreme Court primary, Court of Appeals Judge Joanne Kloppenburg’s campaign has signed contracts for at least $24,930 in TV advertising, according to an analysis of public FCC records by Justice at Stake. The initial Kloppenburg ad buys lag far behind contracts booked by the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform for ads supporting incumbent Justice Rebecca Bradley, which have reached $343,225. No TV ads have yet been purchased by the third candidate, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Joe Donald.

In Arkansas, where voters will go to the polls March 1, the Washington, D.C.-based Judicial Crisis Network has booked television ad contracts totaling $76,555, JAS said. According to paperwork filed simultaneously with the ad buy at KFSM in Fort Smith, the topic of the ads will be “Gifts and campaign contributions accepted by Arkansas Associate Supreme Court Justice Courtney Goodson.” Read more

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Opinions Raise Hard Questions About Electing Judges

VOTERThere’s no let-up in continuing controversy over popular election of state judges, as recent opinion pieces from Nebraska and Arkansas indicate. They provide intriguing views from one state (Nebraska) that uses a merit-based system to choose judges and one (Arkansas) that uses elections.

An Omaha World-Herald editorial is titled, “Leave judges out of politics,” and it argues vigorously against proposed legislation (see Gavel Grab) to switch to judicial elections.  It says Alexander Hamilton eloquently asserted the importance of judges steering free of outside influences. Turning to current times, it continues, “Electing judges would move Nebraska away from that needed independence, tying them to political campaigns and campaign donors.”

In The Times-Record, meanwhile, independent journalist Steve Brawner says disturbing questions about judges’ impartiality are almost inevitable as spending on judicial elections in Arkansas surges and they become more politicized. Such questions have been highlighted by a recent newspaper series (see Gavel Grab), he says, adding that consideration of a merit selection process like one pioneered by Missouri might be a better idea. His column is headlined, “Still want to elect justices?”

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Digital Ad in WI Court Race Makes Use of Incumbent’s Video, Too

In the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, the campaign of candidate Judge Joe Donald is attempting to reap some discord with a YouTube ad about Justice Rebecca Bradley that makes use, in disparaging fashion,  of video the Bradley campaign earlier put on YouTube.

His ad accuses the Wisconsin Alliance for Reform of spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to “help buy” Bradley’s election, according to a Capital Times article. The conservative, nonprofit group took video footage that Bradley’s campaign put on YouTube to make a positive TV ad in her support. Read more

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Legislatures Asked to Weigh Restrictions on Use of Foreign Law

Efforts to restrict Islamic, foreign, or international law, in our courts continue on a widespread basis, and in West Virginia, proposed legislation threatens impeachment of a judge found to have violated such a restriction.

That news comes from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. “A raft of new legislation” has been introduced in 12 states this year, Gavel to Gavel reports, and some of the proposals continue to specifically ban use of sharia in state courts.

The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization. You can learn more about issues around impeachment of judges from the JAS web page on the topic.

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Taking off from a recent op-ed by a law professor (see Gavel Grab), an essay in The Economist asks, “Are the Supreme Court justices too old?”
  • In the wake of a series of unusual developments in a local judicial election (see Gavel Grab), the Belleville (Illinois) News-Democrat has an article headlined, “Meier bill would prevent judges from running for re-election rather than retention.”
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Editorial Praises KS Vote Against Dumping Merit Selection

kansassupremeNow that the Kansas House (see Gavel Grab) has scuttled a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way state Supreme Court justices are chosen, it’s time to bury the issue for the “foreseeable future,” a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.

The proposal was engineered more by lobbying groups and elected officials including the governor, than did it dervie from any groundswell of public sentiment, the editorial contends. “A bipartisan group of Kansas legislators don’t think the system needs to be changed, and there is no reason to think that Kansas voters disagree with that assessment,” it notes.

The editorial’s headline declares: “Positive inaction/The failure to move forward on changes to the state’s judicial selection system is one of those times when the Kansas Legislature should be congratulated for what it didn’t do.” The proposal was to dump the merit selection of Supreme Court justices and give the governor outright appointment authority, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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Brandenburg: ‘Time to Go on Offense’ to Protect Fair Courts

Bert Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg, former executive director of Justice at Stake, reflects in a Judicature essay about both the bad news and the good that he took away after almost 15 years at the fair-courts organization:

“For almost a decade and a half, as executive director of Justice at Stake I traveled the country to deliver a wake-up call. I talked to judges who feel off-balance, trapped in a fundraising rat-race that is poisoning courtroom justice. I talked to attorneys who feel helpless when a judge calls, asking for money. I watched as interest groups pour in millions to buy up the courts, especially since the Citizens United decision.”

Yet “[t]he good news is that Americans ‘get’ that courts are supposed to be different,” Brandenburg says, and this understanding offers a foundation for action on the offensive: Read more

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Bloomberg BNA Cites JAS in Analyzing Ninth Circuit Ruling

justice-scalesQuoting Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, Bloomberg BNA has published a broad look at a recent Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling involving restrictions on judicial candidates’ speech.

The case, Wolfson v. Concannon (see Gavel Grab), upheld Arizona’s rules limiting political activity by judges and judicial candidates. It was the first sign that a Supreme Court ruling last year, upholding a Florida ban on judicial candidates directly soliciting campaign money, “could have a wide-ranging impact,” Bloomberg BNA paraphrased Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center as saying. Read more

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Urging Diversity of Legal Experience for Top MN Judges

A commentary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune commends Gov. Mark Dayton for acknowledging his commitment to cultural diversity after his recent appellate court appointments (see Gavel Grab), while emphasizing a need to promote diversity of legal experience at the same time.   

The opinion by attorney Kevin S. Cloud is titled, “Why we need a different kind of diversity on our courts: That is, would the Mayo Clinic assign a cardiologist to do a hip replacement?” Read more

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JAS Applauds Bipartisan Kansas Vote Affirming Merit Selection

kansassupremeWhen Kansas legislators rejected a proposed shift in the way state Supreme Court justices are selected, it was a “resounding victory for fair and impartial courts,” Justice at Stake Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton said on Thursday.

The state House rejected a bill to junk merit selection of the justices and place direct appointment authority in the governor’s hands, subject to state Senate confirmation (see Gavel Grab). Seaton said:

“We applaud today’s bipartisan vote by Kansas legislators affirming a judicial selection system that has worked well for the state Supreme Court for decades.

“Legislators voted against turning back the clock. Kansans want their judges selected based on qualifications, not partisan politics. This is a resounding victory for fair and impartial courts.

“Importantly, today’s vote also shows that lawmakers saw through efforts to discredit merit selection by partisans who were willing to play fast and loose with the facts. Contrary to the claims of some, Kansas is hardly alone in the way it chooses its top justices. Two dozen states and the District of Columbia use merit selection to choose judges for their highest courts, and many of those states also have a majority of attorneys serving on their nominating commissions.”

Read more

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