Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Elections' Category

N.C. Legislature Wants Judicial Candidates to List Parties

The North Carolina legislature has passed and sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for his signature a bill to require candidates for the North Carolina Court of Appeals to list their party affiliation on the ballot.

Nonetheless the Court of Appeals elections would not be technically partisan, according to a report, as a primary would not be a partisan affair. It would winnow a field of candidates for a judgeship down to two, but they could both be affiliated with the same party.

Gavel to Gavel, meanwhile, reported that other states are considering similar moves, and it listed them. Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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Opinion: How to Fix Dark Money in Judicial Races? With Disclosure

gavel-and-cash.125192919_stdIn an era of big-spending judicial elections, “dark money” election spending poses a real threat to fair and impartial courts and must be remedied with rigorous disclosure by litigants and lawyers whose spending has supported a judge, a Chicago Tribune op-ed says.

The op-ed was written by Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “Litigants (and their lawyers) should be required to disclose their contributions to influence any judicial election. This is a straightforward rule that would apply to trial lawyers and corporate defendants, and everyone else before the bar,” Weissman contends. Once disclosure occurs, then a litigant will know when to ask a judge to recuse, he suggests. Read more

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Editorial to Walker: Don’t Give a High Court Candidate a Boost

Wisconsin_flag_mapFor Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker to fill a state Supreme Court vacancy with an already declared candidate would give that person an advantage in next year’s election, and he should leave the seat open for now, a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial says.

Alternatively, if the governor feels he must make an appointment, he ought to name a justice who would not be a candidate next year, the editorial adds. It concludes:

“Maybe the state should change the way it selects justices; we’ve argued that. But right now, Wisconsin voters still make that choice — and Walker should allow them to make that choice without giving an advantage to one candidate.”

At, Chris Rickert has a political analysis of the latest developments, titled “Hope for Scott Walker’s opponents, if not for Supreme Court elections.”

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More Reason to Switch to Appointing Judges: Editorial

Pennsylvania_quarter,_reverse_side,_1999A recent analysis about elected judges and death penalty appeals provides all the more reason that Pennsylvania should switch from electing top judges to an appointment-based system, a Scranton Times-Tribune editorial says.

The editorial cites a recent Reuters study suggesting that state Supreme Court justices who must face election are more likely than appointed justices to uphold death sentences on appeal (see Gavel Grab).

“Judges should not have to look over their shoulders when deciding life-and-death cases and other important matters,” the editorial declares. 

“The pattern in death-penalty appeals is another indicator that Pennsylvania should switch to appointing appellate judges.”

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Editorial: Public Confidence Eroded by Partisan Judicial Races

It undermines public confidence in impartial courts when candidates for judgeships are required to run for election in partisan races, an Arizona Daily Sun editorial declares.

The editorial points to an ethics brush-up by a Flagstaff justice of the peace as an example of “politicking gone awry in a judicial race,” but it goes further to question the entire system of partisan elections for judgeships.

The editorial says that “having judge candidates campaign for office is incompatible with the independent, nonpartisan nature of the job. … A halfway measure for insulating judge candidates from special interests is to have them run only with public funding. They would still need to post fliers and press the flesh. But at least they would not need to go hat in hand to citizens and businesses in the community who might later have business before the court.”

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Big Fundraising Continues in Pennsylvania Court Election

The fundraising continues on a fast and furious pace in a race for three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It was reported earlier (see Gavel Grab) that a dozen candidates had raised $5.6 million by June 8. A May primary reduced the field, and seven candidates have raised a total of $2.8 million this summer, the Philadelphia Inquirer said.

An Associated Press article was headlined, “Labor, trial lawyers help Democrats grab fundraising edge in Pennsylvania high court race.” 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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JAS: Report on Judicial Elections-Executions Link is ‘Sobering’

justice-scalesA new study that finds a link between judicial elections and executions is “sobering,” Justice at Stake said.

JAS Interim Executive Director Liz Seaton, reacting to a Reuters study suggesting that state Supreme Court justices who must face election are more likely than appointed justices to uphold death sentences on appeal, said the following:

“This sobering report should cause every person in this country to take pause. It’s another piece of evidence in a growing case that judicial elections influence case decisions, by placing intense pressures on judges to prove they’re ‘tough on crime.’ When political pressures are brought to bear in life-or-death decisions, it can result in a train wreck. That’s why we need real reform to take the politics out of judicial selection.”

Read more

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Commentary: A Run for Judge in Philadelphia ‘Will Cost You’

Sales-Tax-money-gavelOne of the most stinging indictments of local judicial elections that Gavel Grab has seen recently comes in an opinion by Tom Ferrick at, and it’s headlined, “A run for judge? It’ll cost you.” Ferrick explains, in his view, the way things work, and here are excerpts:

  • “You may want to ask children to leave the room while we discuss today’s topic: How to become a judge in Philadelphia.”
  • “Although you do need to be a lawyer to be a judge, you don’t need to be a very good lawyer. Of the 43 candidates running for 12 vacancies on Common Pleas Court in the May primary election, many did not pass muster with the local bar association, which has panels of lawyers that vet the candidates. Sixteen got a rating of ‘not recommended.'”
  • “In Philadelphia, judgeships are the playthings of ward leaders. …If you are going to run for judge, best to plan on spending at least $200,000. A suggested budget: Plan to spend $600 on printing posters and brochures, $35 for a good stapler to tack up the posters, and the rest on contributions to the city’s 69 Democratic wards. That’s an exaggeration – but not much of one.”
  • “If you make the right political contacts, spent the most money, act as a supplicant before ward leaders, you will get to wear a black robe. If you just moved from out of town and think the whole process is crass and open to abuse, you would be right.”

Read more

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Court Rejects Challenge to Time Limits on Judicial Fundraising

A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Judge Colleen O’Toole, running for the Ohio Supreme Court as a Republican, must comply with state judicial rules that restrict when she may raise raise campaign money. The rules do not violate the First Amendment, the court said, according to Courthouse News Service.

O’Toole challenged a rule that judicial candidates may not raise campaign money more than 120 days before a primary contest. The court panel affirmed the judicial candidate rules.


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Editorial: Local Judicial Contest Slips ‘Into the Mud’

Regarding mudslinging in a recent Erie County, N.Y. Family Court primary contest, a Buffalo News editorial says outside spending — as opposed to spending by the candidates themselves — was responsible.

You can learn more about the specifics of the charges and countercharges from Gavel Grab. Laments the Buffalo News editorial, “[W]hile the candidates themselves observed all the requirements of judicial decorum, not everyone else did. Ugly television and mail marked a race that mirrored all those other elections, because outside groups jumped in. To them, the canons of judicial ethics that prohibit personal attacks didn’t mean a thing.”

The editorial singles out the role of the Democratic Committee in sending out mailers at the center of the controversy. “While the candidates themselves started out observing the rules of judicial campaign ethics, other entities like the county Democratic Committee did whatever they wanted – just like the super PACs of national politics,” it says. The editorial is titled, “Judicial campaigns slip into the mud.”

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