Huffington Post Cites Aron on SCOTUS Oversight in Debate

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169SCOTUS CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT FROM FIRST DEBATE:  Although the presidential election will have an enormous impact on the future makeup of the Supreme Court, that topic was notably absent from the agenda of the first Trump-Clinton debate. The Huffington Post’s Cristian Farias pointed out the oversight in a piece headlined “One Issue That Could Reshape America For A Generation Was Snubbed At The Debate,” and quoted Nan Aron in her role as President of  our sister organization, Alliance for Justice.  “It’s disappointing that one of the most critical issues facing our democracy, the future of the Supreme Court, didn’t get any airtime in tonight’s debate,” Nan said.  The Huffington Post piece went on to urge that the Court get coverage in the remaining presidential debates as well as the upcoming vice presidential debate.

Meanwhile, Noah Feldman in a piece for Bloomberg View offered analysis of why the SCOTUS issue failed to come up at the first debate, and why it has received less attention on the campaign trail than some might have expected.  Prof. Feldman’s take: neither candidate believes he or she can gain an edge by highlighting the Court as a campaign issue.  Donald Trump, Feldman writes, can’t promise to remake the Court as he would likely get only the chance to replace the late Justice Scalia with another conservative judge, thereby maintaining the status quo.  Meanwhile, although a Hillary Clinton appointment to replace Scalia could shift the balance on the Court, Feldman opines that “it isn’t good politics for her to trumpet a liberal transformation of the court when she’s trying to win over the median voter.”

CLIMATE PROTECTION PLAN HANGS BY A THREAD IN FEDERAL COURT:  The Hill reports that the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, a central feature of  President Obama’s second-term climate agenda, is in the hands of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals after the Supreme Court put its implementation on hold earlier this year.  The Clean Power Plan is often cited as a primary example of the Supreme Court’s, and federal courts’, influence in the environmental arena.  According to The Hill, it’s unclear whether the plan will survive the current federal court scrutiny.  Its implementation was halted in February by a Supreme Court ruling that sent it down to the lower court for review; the Court’s action was among the last joined by Justice Antonin Scalia before his death days later.

With Debate Looming, Analysts Ponder SCOTUS’s Future

n-SUPREME-COURT-large570SUPREME COURT HANGING IN THE BALANCE: With the first presidential debate set for tonight, court-watchers’ focus on how the election will affect the Supreme Court is intensifying. In a piece for The New York Times,  Adam Liptak notes:  “In Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 11 years on the Supreme Court, his unfolding legacy has been marked by a debate over whether his very occasional liberal votes in major cases were the acts of a statesman devoted to his institution, a traitor to his principles or the legal umpire he said he aspired to be at his confirmation hearings. This election could settle that debate.”  Meanwhile, Jeffrey Toobin posts a comprehensive analysis of a Supreme Court “In the balance” at The New Yorker, noting, “The Supreme Court has leaned right for decades. Is that about to change?”

SCOTUS WEIGHING JOHN DOE CASE:  Also at The New Yorker, Lincoln Caplan has a piece on why the Supreme Court should take up the appeal of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling halting the so-called “John Doe” investigation involving Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election. Caplan writes: “The case is about the seemingly peripheral issue of judicial recusal. But it brings together two of the biggest disrupters of American democracy today: the surge, after the Citizens United decision struck down limits on independent spending, of private influence in elections; and the politicization of the highest courts in many states. For the past eight years, Wisconsin has been a laboratory testing the toxicity of this combination.”

 

 

 

 

 

Lynn Marks is Stepping Down at Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts

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Lynn A. Marks is stepping down as executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that has championed merit selection of judges in the state. A Philly.com article about her departure stated:

“For 25 years, Marks has been the most consistently audible voice in the movement to change Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges to an appointment process that proponents say would limit the impact of politics on the judiciary.”

Marks will be succeeded by Maida Malone, an attorney with experience in the pharmaceutical and nonprofit sectors. Marks will continue in a consulting capacity. (more…)

In Pennsylvania, JAS Partner Decries ‘Scandal After Scandal’

law-cash-21816475While spending in Pennsylvania judicial elections has surged, citizens may be dismayed by the result, a prominent defender of fair and impartial courts says in a news article that also cited Justice at Stake.

“What’s happened is, even after this ever-increasing amount of money spent, what have Pennsylvanians gotten?” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, according to WITF.

“They’ve gotten scandal after scandal, and jurists’ campaign coffers are flowing from the very same lawyers and litigants that will appear before them.” At least $15.9 million was spent in the last Pennsylvania Supreme Court election before Election Day, the article noted, citing JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice as its source; the spending totals last year broke the previous documented record for any supreme court race in the nation. (more…)

A Salute to Our Partner Organization on its 10th Anniversary

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This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its work to rebuild justice across the United States. Our friends at IAALS deserve hearty applause.

In 2006, IAALS opened its doors at the University of Denver with a mission to continuously improve the American legal system and reestablish it as the aspirational model for justice around the world.

The Institute’s evolution and growth has been remarkable and is a testament to IAALS’  pioneering model. It is not just a place where problems are studied and solutions crafted, but one where action is taken and real, and positive changes are made. (more…)

Susan Liss Named as New Justice at Stake Executive Director

lissJustice at Stake’s Board of Directors is  pleased to announce that after a nationwide search, Susan M. Liss was selected to assume the role of Executive Director of Justice at Stake. Liss will begin a transition into her new role this month, before joining the organization full-time on February 16.

Liss brings to her new role an unparalleled combination of strong leadership, passionate commitment to issues of justice and democracy, and dedication to the cause of fair and impartial courts. She currently serves as  Executive Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, overseeing all operations of a $34 million dollar organization with global reach. She has held numerous posts in government service, and has also previously led the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, a JAS partner organization that also works on fair-courts issues.

“We could not be more enthusiastic about the selection of Susan Liss to lead Justice at Stake at this critical juncture in its history,” said Mark Harrison, Justice at Stake Board Chair. “This choice is emblematic of an exciting new direction for JAS, and the start of a new chapter in our leadership of the fair-courts field. Under Susan’s proven leadership, we are absolutely confident that Justice at Stake can drive major and lasting reforms that will protect fair and impartial courts well into the future.”

“It is a great privilege to accept this opportunity to lead Justice at Stake as its Executive Director,” Liss said. “I have watched with great concern as our courts at all levels have come under attack by special interests, while the flow of money into judicial elections has continued to increase. JAS has grown into the most credible bipartisan organization fighting back against these harmful influences. I believe deeply in its mission, and am eager to work with the JAS staff to fight harder than ever to protect the courts that protect all our rights.”

Liss will assume Executive Director duties at JAS from Liz Seaton, the current Interim Executive Director of JAS, who will return to her prior role as Deputy Executive Director. Longtime Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg departed the organization to assume the role of President of Appleseed in August of 2015. To read a full news release, click here.

JAS Mourns Loss of Former Board Member, Landon Rowland

landonrowland_750xx750-424-0-326Justice at Stake noted with sadness that Landon Rowland, a former member of the JAS Board of Directors, died December 28 in Kansas City following a long illness.  Rowland was a staunch supporter of fair courts in addition to his many other professional and philanthropic pursuits.  The Kansas City Business Journal lauded Rowland as a “business and philanthropic giant” who “left a lasting mark” on the city. The Kansas City Star noted that Rowland led the expansion of Kansas City Southern Industries as its president and CEO, and  was instrumental in establishing the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City. “Rowland also helped establish the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and was an important supporter of the American Royal Horse Show and the American art collection at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art,” the Star reported.

In 2013, Rowland testified in the Kansas legislature against a proposed measure to replace the state’s merit selection system for top state judges (see Gavel Grab). “We depend on a free market system. Small business depends on a fair and impartial judiciary,”  Rowland testified, according to an Associated Press article. He noted that the Kansas court system has a reputation for fair, impartial and qualified judges.

Rowland was 78.

 

PA News Media: Merit Commended; JAS, Partners Cited

justice-scalesHow timely that a proposal to end elections of top judges in Pennsylvania is advancing in the legislature at the same time a “parade of personal, dirty ads” has begun airing in this year’s high court election, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial said.

Endorsing a merit-based selection system as the best replacement for judicial elections, the editorial concluded, “An ineffective system, a series of scandals involving Supreme Court justices and the dirty ad campaigns should be catalysts for reform.” A state House panel voted its approval earlier this week of a merit system plan, and its action was commended as bipartisan and needed in a Philly.com column.

Meanwhile the intensity of charges and countercharges amid outside spending in the court election was reflected by news articles reporting that one targeted candidate, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey, dispatched a “cease-and-desist” letter to  Pennsylvanians for Judicial Reform over a negative ad the letter called false and defamatory. (more…)

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.
(more…)