Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

Article: Will IL Judges ‘Skirt the Constitution’ to Seek Election?

St_Clair_County_Seal.271195813_stdThree circuit judges in St. Clair County, Il. have signaled they will seek another term on the bench by standing for election next year rather than for retention, as the state Constitution outlines, according to a MadisonRecord.com article.

The article suggests the judges are taking an unusual though not entirely unprecedented electoral path after seeing Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier barely secure the required 60 percent voter approval threshold when he sought retention in 2014. Read more

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LDF: Blacks Never Have Had Voice on Local LA Parish Court

TerrebonneParish_REUSEIn a lawsuit challenging the practice of electing five Terrebone Parish, Louisiana judges through at-large elections, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund lawyers say black voters never have had an elected voice on the court.

“Although black residents comprise 20% of Terrebonne’s population, are geographically concentrated within the Parish, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no black candidate has ever been elected in a contested election in the 32nd JDC because of the at-large electoral system,” said a LDF press release about a memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit.

“As recently as 2008, this structure resulted in a white judge’s reelection even after he was suspended for wearing blackface in an apparent parody of black criminal defendants,” said Leah Aden, an LDF attorney. The press release was mentioned in Election Law blog.

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Reform Aimed to Inform More Ohio Voters About Judicial Races

Ohio_quarter,_reverse_side,_2002Reforms led by Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor are aimed at raising the profile of judicial elections and helping voters be more informed about them, a Columbus Dispatch editorial says.

Part of the effort to get more voters to participate in judicial elections will be a website, Judicial Votes Count, to be launched soon. It will have biographical information about candidates, their responses to a standard questionnaire and lists of candidates’ endorsements.

While Justice O’Connor has spoken of interest by some in the legal community in a switch to merit selection of judges, she believes that is unlikely to be adopted given public opinion polling in the state, according to the editorial.

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Justice Kelly of Michigan Supreme Court to Step Down

B9318485736Z.1_20150817102056_000_G6OBLBA0Q.1-0Justice Mary Beth Kelly, elected to the Michigan Supreme Court in 2010, has announced she will leave the bench Oct. 1 to return to private practice, according to The Detroit News.

Gov. Rick Snyder will appoint someone to fill the vacancy created by her retirement. Of a total of seven justices, the court currently has five justices who were elected after nomination by the GOP.

In November of 2016, voters will select a justice to serve out the remainder of Kelly’s term.

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Editorial Assails ‘Archaic’ Judicial Election System in Pennsylvania

With heavy outside spending expected in this year’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court race, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial calls on all seven candidates to pledge to denounce dark money-funded political advertising.

Politics is “more of an issue than usual” in the upcoming contest with so many candidates in the running and because the election will determine the political majority on the court, which later could rule on redistricting of political boundaries, the editorial notes.

In urging candidates to take the pledge, the editorial states, “Pennsylvania’s archaic practice of electing appellate judges inevitably makes politics integral to selecting people for positions that are, by definition, supposed to be apolitical.” To learn about legislation that would switch Pennsylvania from contested elections of appellate judges to a merit-based appointment process, see Gavel Grab.

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Connecticut Death Penalty Struck Down, California’s Affirmed

The Connecticut Supreme Court struck down that state’s death penalty this week, while the California Supreme Court affirmed the Golden State’s death penalty.

According to the Associated Press, the Connecticut court said the death penalty “no longer comports with contemporary standards of decency” and violates Connecticut’s constitution. In 2012, the legislature repealed the death penalty for future crimes while leaving it intact for those sentenced to die.

The California court, according to At the Lectern blog, rejected among other issues a condemned defendant’s argument he could not get impartial justice because the Superior Court judge and Supreme Court justices can face judicial elections. (These judges are appointed by the governor and if they seek to stay on the bench must face a retention election in the next gubernatorial election year after appointment.) Read more

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Brandenburg’s Role in Building Justice at Stake is Saluted

unnamed-5Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg will step down this month after having helped make JAS “one of the most visible groups opposing the politicization of judicial seats,” the Legal Times reported.

“What was most exciting and I’m proudest of was helping build a movement from scratch and put a new issue on the map of the American political landscape,” Brandenburg told Legal Times about his 14 years at JAS. “We’re moving towards an enough-is-enough movement. I think getting cash out of the courtroom is the fastest growing democracy issue right now.” He will become president of Appleseed, a national network of public interest law centers (see Gavel Grab).

Regarding victories won by defenders of fair courts, Brandenburg said nonetheless, “[T]he money isn’t going away by itself. If the billionaires’ caucus decides to jump into court races with both feet, we’re in real trouble. We saw signs in the last two elections that they’re dabbling.” Read more

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Editorial: Weeks Later, Wisconsin Court Recusal Issue Remains

Wisconsin_flag_mapA lengthy Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel editorial, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision ending a campaign finance investigation (see Gavel Grab), called the court “polarized and dysfunctional” and said a conflict-of-interest issue involving some of its members has not gone away.

Among the important questions remaining, the editorial said, is the following: “Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?” It said a special prosecutor asked for recusal by Justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser, and they did not step aside from hearing the case.

The editorial urged Gov. Scott Walker to “to show good faith, be true to his past words in support of transparency regarding campaign contributions, and initiate bipartisan action to resolve these questions.” Read more

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Opinion: Politicized Courts

In a column for the Greensboro News and Record’s Greensboro.com news website, Doug Clark laments the politicization of courts at the federal and state levels. “The courts have been in the political cross hairs for a long time,” he writes, adding that current political attacks and manipulation aimed at courts are doing little to improve their standing in public opinion.

Noting Sen. Ted Cruz’s accusation of “liberal judicial activism” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, Clark writes that “Opinions about the courts often bounce around, depending on the latest big decision. ” He maintains that Cruz’s idea is unlikely to gain traction, since  the founders intended courts to be apolitical.

Yet despite this intention of the founders, Clark says, North Carolina’s legislature successfully adopted a change in its court structure that was tagged as political at the outset. The state adopted an option for Supreme Court retention elections, even though “Democrats in the legislature voted against this change, smelling a political rat.” Clark goes on to observe that the switch appears most likely to benefit an incumbent Republican justice, whose continued presence on the bench would  maintain Republicans’ 4-3 majority.  Yet he also expresses hope that retention elections may prove less politicized than the contested elections currently in place for justices’ initial selection to the bench.

“Justices should not be accountable only to those willing to spend money to elect or retain them,” Clark writes, although in the current political climate, cynicism about courts appears to be widespread.

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Top W.Va. Judge Cleared in Ethics Case; Controversy Continues

justiceDavisThe West Virginia Judicial Investigation Commission has thrown out an ethics complaint lodged against state Chief Justice Robin Davis after an ABC News investigative report raised questions about election-year fundraising and a private Lear Jet deal.

According to The State Journal, the commission’s 15-page report harshly criticized former gubernatorial candidate Bill Maloney, who brought the ethics complaint, and ABC News.

The commission said Maloney put out a press release on the letterhead of his office after he submitted the complaint, in what “appears to the commission to be a blatant attempt to garner free publicity for himself.” It said he “chose to violate the confidentiality rule for filing complaints when he issued the rapacious press release that was designed to convict Justice Davis in the court of public opinion before any decision on the merits was reached by (JIC).” Read more

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