Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Pulling Back the Veil on Funding of Judicial Crisis Network

A secretive nonprofit group called the Wellspring Committee gave more than $6.6 million last year to the Judicial Crisis Network, the Center for Responsive Politics reports, while citing Justice at Stake about JCN’s efforts to influence state judicial elections.

“The Judicial Crisis Network gave $528,000 to organizations that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on judicial elections in Wisconsin and Tennessee,” according to Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14, coauthored by JAS and two partner organizations.

The Center for Responsive Politics has previously written about the Wellspring Committee and funds from it that were channeled into judicial election spending, and you can learn more from Gavel Grab. Under federal tax law, the Wellspring Committee is not required to disclose its own donors.

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Commentary: ‘Pay-to-Play’ Court Race Perception in N.C.?

pay-to-play cashA recent report documenting surging special interest spending on judicial elections, coauthored by Justice at Stake, continues to get news media coverage in high-spending states — including in less populated areas.

In North Carolina, a commentary by Patrick Gannon of the Capitol Press Association, about what Gannon called the corrupting influence of money on judicial races, was published in The Greenville Daily Reflector and The Salisbury Post.

Gannon sums up what Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14 identifies as trends in the big-spending 2014 North Carolina Supreme Court election, and he comes away worried. Also coauthoring the report were The Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics. Read more

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Big Majority Says N.C. Judges’ Decisions Affected by Running for Job

VOTERAlmost 75 percent of North Carolinians responding to an Elon University poll said state judges’ decisions are influenced by the fact they must run for election.

In addition, 76 percent of those polled said political parties influence judges’ decisions and 76 percent said they disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that the courts are “free from political influences.”

“These results may reflect the fact that North Carolina had the nation’s second-highest level of campaign spending in judicial elections in 2014,” said Assistant Professor Jason Husser, assistant director of the Elon University Poll. “Our state trails only Michigan in how much money all candidates spent in seeking seats on the bench.” Read more

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NPR Zeroes in on IL Court Election, Questions of Impartial Justice

Earlier this month, the Illinois Supreme Court spared tobacco maker Philip Morris a $10.1 billion judgment, at least for now, as Gavel Grab has mentioned. This week, NPR Illinois aired some questions, involving the case and judicial elections, that trouble defenders of impartial courts.

bg1NPR focused on the vote in the court majority opinion of Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who was targeted with heavy spending in his retention election just last year from lawyers and law firms representing plaintiffs suing Philip Morris. A report coauthored by Justice at Stake said recently, “Funneling money into efforts to oust Karmeier in 2014 was a new group called ‘Campaign for 2016,’ created less than a month before Karmeier’s retention election and funded entirely by a group of plaintiffs’ lawyers and firms. During the PAC’s short existence, these lawyers and law firms poured over $2 million into the fund for the express purpose of campaigning against Karmeier—with 85 percent of the funding coming from lawyers and law firms that were representing the plaintiffs in the Philip Morris case.”

“Justice Rules Against Lawyers Who Tried to Defeat Him,” the NPR headline said, continuing, “Ideology has long been at the heart of high-profile judicial battles, whether the judges are elected or appointed. But is it different when the fight puts a specific case on the line?” Read more

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Article: Black Lives Matter PAC Eyes Court Races

Two groups associated with the Black Lives Movement have set up political action committees, and at least one of them is eyeing voter education efforts in races that include judgeships, a New York Times article says:

“Two groups have started political action committees to back candidates who support ideas espoused by Black Lives Matter activists. One, Black Lives Matter Political Action Committee, started by a St. Louis radio host, plans to raise money for voter education in races for law enforcement-related offices, including for district attorney and judgeships. The second, Black Lives Matter Super PAC, was started by New York activists who hope to raise large donations from celebrities to influence campaigns for a variety of offices.”

The Times article is headlined, “One Slogan, Many Methods: Black Lives Matter Enters Politics.” It reports that “groups allied under the Black Lives Matters banner” met this week with members of the Democracy Alliance about possible funding of the movement.

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Court Races Have Big Stakes, Column Says, Citing Justice at Stake

Gavel_and_moneyIn the Sacramento Bee, a commentary by editorial page editor Dan Morain highlights the big stakes at play in state judicial elections, and reports $90.1 million has been spent to shape state supreme court elections since 2011, according to Justice at Stake.

Tracing the work of a Sacramento political consultant who has advised clients in some state Supreme Court retention elections, Morain connects the dots between the Florida Supreme Court striking down parts of a Republican-drawn redistricting plan in Florida, and its ruling having resulted in a more Democrat-friendly district where former Gov. Charles Crist, a Republican-turned-Democrat, is running for the U.S. House.

The consultant worked for Defend Justice from Politics, a group that urged Florida voters in 2012 to retain three justices who were targeted for removal from the court (for background, see Gavel Grab). The justices were retained, and ultimately were part of the court handing down the redistricting decision.

The Crist candidacy, Morain writes, “provides a lesson in why the makeup of a state supreme court 3,000 miles away matters … and on the threat posed to democracy by attempts often orchestrated by partisan conservatives to unseat justices Read more

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Judicial Recusal a ‘Gray Area’ After High-Spending PA Court Race

justice-scalesAfter through-the-roof spending and fundraising in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court election this month, “the question of whether a judge should recuse from cases involving a donor remains a gray area” in the state, a Legal Intelligencer article says.

“It gets messy pretty quick when you start to get down into the details of campaign finance and recusals,” Muhlenberg College political science professor Christopher Borick said. “Pennsylvania doesn’t have clear guidelines on this.”

Matthew Menendez of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law said some states establish a bright-line rule governing judicial recusal.  Trial judges in New York, for example, must step aside if a party appearing in their courtroom has given $2,500 or more to their campaign for the bench. Read more

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Column Commends OH Judicial Candidate Website, Cites JAS

In commending a new website that profiles candidates for judgeships in Ohio, Thomas Suddes of Northeast Media Group reprises the Ohio Supreme Court election of 2014, relying heaving on Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14.

While “some Ohioans may ignore judgeship elections,” Suddes writes, “Insiders don’t: They gave more than $1.1 million to the 2014 campaign of Republican Justice Judith L. French when she won a full Ohio Supreme Court term.” He notes that she ranked second in the nation during the past election cycle for big fundraising by a state Supreme Court candidate, according to Bankrolling the Bench, written by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

You can learn more about the website, launched by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, from Gavel Grab.


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Economist Article on ‘Courting Cash’ Cites Justice at Stake

The London-based Economist quotes Justice at Stake in chronicling the most expensive judicial election in U.S. history — recently concluded in Pennsylvania — and in questioning its implications.

The-Economist“COURTS, in theory, are bastions of independence and impartiality. But that image is tainted when campaigns pass the hat for contributions, or benefit from spending by others,” the Economist says in introducing data about the $16.5 million election for three seats on the state’s Supreme Court. The article goes on:

“Massive campaign spending in judges’ elections, according to Liz Seaton, interim head of the campaign group Justice at Stake, ‘is a giant and growing storm that threatens justice’. The candidate amassing the largest war-chest wins more than 90% of contested state Supreme Court races, she has pointed out. Ms Seaton and other critics think the selection of judges should be taken out of the hands of the people and entrusted to panels of experts instead.”

Read more

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Has Pennsylvania Seen the ‘New Normal’ for Judicial Elections?

law-cash-21816475It’s getting harder to distinguish between Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court elections and its elections for legislative and executive office, a political analyst suggests in a Legal Intelligencer article.

“I think that we are seeing judicial elections start to more closely mirror legislative and executive elections in terms of their price tags and even some of the campaign tactics being used in terms of negative ads,” said political scientist Christopher Borick of Muhlenberg College.

He also noted about record high spending — more than $16.5 million (see Gavel Grab)– in the contest, “I think this is the new normal. As long as judges to the state Supreme Court are elected in a partisan manner, you are going to see characteristics of the races like campaign finance grow.” The article cited election spending data from Justice at Stake. Read more

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