Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category

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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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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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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JAS Supports Bill to End Election of MD Circuit Court Judges



Justice at Stake submitted testimony on Thursday in support of a Maryland bill to end the election of Circuit Court judges, while urging several steps to strengthen the measure.

“All across the country, a new culture of judicial politics has emerged,” Interim JAS Executive Director Liz Seaton said in the testimony submitted to a state Senate panel. “State courts, the institutions whose legitimacy is most reliant on public confidence, have been undermined by record-shattering contributions to judicial candidates, unprecedented influence from outside organizations … and alarming instances of political intimidation and politicization from the executive and legislative branches,” she said.

“Campaign money should not be a factor in selecting judges, and merit selection systems reduce the influence of this money on the courts.”  The legislation provides for gubernatorial appointment of Circuit Court judges, subject to state Senate confirmation. Read more

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On Outside Spending in WI Court Race, AP Quotes Justice at Stake

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgWith outside spending under way in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race, The Associated Press quoted Justice at Stake about the significance of such spending.

“If you have a justice who arrives on the bench courtesy of millions of dollars of spending by an outside interest group, what is the effect going to be on that person’s professional performance?” JAS Communications Director Laurie Kinney told the AP. “It’s deleterious to the administration of justice.”

JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice released on Wednesday (see Gavel Grab) a report that tracked spending in the high court race. As quoted by AP, the groups documented spending by Wisconsin Alliance for Reform of at least $234,660 on TV advertising contracts, in support of Justice Rebecca Bradley. Read more

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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. Read more

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JAS, Partner: Campaign Buys TV Ad Time in Arkansas Court Race

arkansas_flag_web_fc1aIs an advertising air war ahead in the March 1 Arkansas Supreme Court election? Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice reported on Wednesday one candidate’s booking of TV ad contracts nearing $68,000.

“Arkansas is still reeling from the harsh advertising that made its 2014 Supreme Court election one of the most notable in the country,” said Debra Erenberg, JAS director of state affairs. “There will be a lot of focus on how this race is run, and on who decides to pump money into the ad campaigns that have unfortunately become an expensive necessity for candidates in today’s judicial elections.”

“The negative and misleading ads that dominated Arkansas’s 2014 supreme court election highlight the troubling role that interest groups often play in shaping state courts,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center. “The big question is whether we will see a similar pattern in the 2016 election.” Read more

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JAS on Outside Spender in WI Court Race: ‘Who is this Group?’

The outside group footing issue ads supporting Justice Rebecca Bradley in a Wisconsin Supreme Court primary is a nonprofit social welfare group that’s not required to disclose its donors, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said on Wednesday.

“‘Game on’ in Wisconsin, where an outside interest group is spending hundreds of thousands at the primary stage to support a judge for a decade-long term on the bench,” said Liz Seaton, JAS Interim Executive Director. “Wisconsinites should be asking: who is this group, what does it want, and will its backers appear before the state Supreme Court in coming years? Context is key, and Wisconsin has a long history of expensive and politicized elections for its high court. It’s important to keep in mind that courts should be fair and impartial institutions that serve people well.” Read more

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Action Ahead to Revamp Judicial Selection in Kansas?

Capitol-from-NWHouse Republican leaders in Kansas plan to gauge support this week for proposals that could give the governor more influence in selecting state Supreme Court justices, the Associated Press reported.

Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has called the current merit selection process for Kansas justices undemocratic, but defenders of fair and impartial courts say he and his conservative allies are trying to fashion a high court that is more to their liking.

Last year, a House committee approved two competing proposals to change judicial selection, teeing them up for possible consideration by the full House. One would adopt partisan election of the justices, while the other would eliminate a judicial screening commission and make the governor’s appointments subject to state Senate confirmation.

In the Arkansas City Traveler, meanwhile, an op-ed by Mark Krusor, attorney for Cowley County, urges, “Let’s keep politics out of our courts.” Citing spending data compiled by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, Krusor writes, “Kansans don’t want outside special interests and the national political parties determining who is protecting our rights on our Kansas Supreme Court.”

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