Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'New Politics Reports' Category

Former State Supreme Court Justice Wants Special Interest Money out of Judicial Elections

“Taking the financial reins from outside special-interest groups and giving them back to the local committee parties and candidates could reduce some of the extreme hostility and negativity in ads. But money finds whatever crevice it can, and flows into groups which are less transparent and less accountable,” retired Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard said at a panel discussion about The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-2012 report.

Justice Shepard told the Kansas City InfoZone about the importance of keeping campaign money and strategies out of judicial elections. The report showed that of the $56.4 million spent on state judicial elections, $24.1 million came from special interest groups and political parties.

Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, said the goal of keeping conflicts of interest out of the courtroom, “is being worn away steadily a year at a time by a relentless campaign of big money spending and political bullying.”

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Findings of ‘New Politics 2011-12′ Report Continue to Receive Media Attention

Brandenburg holds up NPJE reportCiting data from the recently released The New Politics of Judicial Elections report, a Moyers & Company article warns that “…state high courts are falling prey to the same out-of-control, post-Citizens United election spending that has plagued legislative and executive races during the past two election cycles.”

The John Light article titled, “Dark Money’s New Frontier: State Judicial Elections,” highlighted that more than $56 million was spent on state high court races across the country. A significant chunk of this money came from special interests one would expect to find operating at the national level – $19.6 million of the $56.4 million total.

The story notes that last year’s election wasn’t the first time large sums of money were spent on judicial elections, but until recently, the majority came from a judge’s personal campaign war chest. What’s new is the influx of special interest money.

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New Poll Shows Voters Concerned Over Money in Judicial Elections

A new poll by Justice at Stake offers further evidence that voters continue to be alarmed by the amount of money pouring into state supreme court races.

According to results reported in the Arkansas Blog, “9 in 10 voters believe campaign contributions to judicial candidates influence court decisions. Justice is for sale, in other words. And that’s not likely to change any time soon. It’s only likely to get worse.”

Former Iowa Chief Justice Marsha Ternus told The Center for Public Integrity, “Unlimited money in judicial races could transform state courts into ‘mini-legislatures’ composed of judges who will vote according to partisan ideology. I don’t see how that’s the rule of law.”

Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice commissioned the poll, which was released as part of the roll-out for a new report by the groups, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.” – See more at: Gavel Grab

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Ousted Judge Decries ‘Intimidation’ Efforts in Elections

State judicial elections are becoming increasingly politicized, judges are the target of “intimidation” efforts across America and these trends pose a danger for impartial courts, former Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Marsha Ternus warned today.

Justice Ternus spoke during a panel convened in Washington, D.C. by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice to spotlight a new report, the “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12.” The nation’s constitutional system is threatened when public confidence in the courts is eroding, she said.

Justice Ternus was removed from the Iowa bench in 2010 after interest groups pumped money into a campaign to oust her and two colleagues over a controversial marriage decision. The groups behind the effort wanted to send a message nationwide, she said, while mocking the targeted justices as “the ruling class” that “ignores the people at their peril.”

“It did send a much more effective message of intimidation” when the three were voted off the bench in a retention election, she said. And even when such an effort is not successful, she added, such efforts “leave a legacy of suspicion,” fear and intimidation and are dangerous for the courts. “That’s a terrible way to operate a court system that is the foundation of our democracy,” she said.

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'New Politics': Michigan Election Led for Anonymous Spending

Michigan’s Supreme Court contest in 2012 led the nation for undocumented spending, according to a Detroit News article that spotlighted data from the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” report.

A total of $18.85 million was spent when three seats on the high court were up for election, and $13.85 million of that came from undisclosed donors, the newspaper reported. For the second consecutive election cycle, Michigan led all other states for overall high court election spending, said the report, released by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

Rich Robinson of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network lamented, “We can no longer say we’re no worse than the rest. We are worse than the rest, and that’s especially true for judicial campaigns.” MCFN is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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Will Blowback Over Shutdown Affect PA Judicial Elections?

Will voters’ anger over the partial U.S. government shutdown influence their votes in upcoming Pennsylvania judicial elections? It’s an open question, if state media coverage is a guide:

The latter article said voter angst is high enough that the Election Day outcomes could be “a nail-biter,” although that is not likely to be the case. Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille is standing for retention, as is Justice Max Baer. Two Superior Court judges also are standing for retention.

An Associated Press article, meanwhile, profiled fundraising for an open seat on the Superior Court and mentioned the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” report Read more

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'New Politics': Why Special Interests Spend on Court Races

Record outside spending in state high court elections last year reflects down-ballot efforts by political groups seeking “to control individual state agendas,” the Huffington Post said in an article about the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” report.

It’s cheaper for special interests to invest money in a state court seat than to spend on a state legislative race, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg told Huffington Post. “These were deemed as ripe for the picking,” he said.

The article was headlined, “No Election is Too Small for the Koch Brothers’ Money.” It prominently mentioned the role of such major spenders in the 2012 judicial elections as the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association’s Law Enforcement Alliance of America.

According to the report by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, independent groups poured $15.4 million into TV ads and other electioneering in state Supreme Court elections last year.  Read more

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AP Article on 'New Politics' Report Brings Far-Flung Coverage

A report on the “New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” is getting news coverage across the country as a result of an Associated Press article about it. The report was compiled by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

The AP began by mentioning a Des Moines Register article (see Gavel Grab) that reported on the spending of $833,000 in Iowa, where a state Supreme Court justice successfully stood for retention election amid controversy over a unanimous decision in 2009 about marriage for same-sex couples.

The Iowa election spending is an example of how special interest spending in judicial elections “has turned into an arms race,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “The American people need to know that judges are deciding cases based on the law, not on who spent the most money to support their campaign.”

Meanwhile The Tennessean carried a news article about the report and noted that next year, Tennessee voters will decide whether to adopt a proposed constitutional amendment Read more

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'New Politics' Report: National Groups Sparred in IA Election

National organizations at odds over the issue of marriage for same-sex couples were among groups that ended up spending a total of $833,000 on an Iowa Supreme Court retention (up-or-down) election last year.

Radio Iowa reported this news based on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12,” a report released this week by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

As part of $466,000 spent to defeat Justice David Wiggins, the National Organization for Marriage pumped more than $130,000 into TV advertising. A group called Iowans for Freedom spent another $318,000 on the unsuccessful effort to oust Justice Wiggins.

In the effort to retain Justice Wiggins, a group called Justice Not Politics spent $322,000, and The Human Rights Campaign furnished more than a third of that money.

In 2010, voters removed three Iowa Supreme Court justices over their votes in a unanimous court decision that had found a right to marriage for same-sex couples in Iowa. Critics of the ruling sought in 2012 to repeat the success.

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'New Politics' Report Gets Headlines in Election Battleground States

In two key judicial election battleground states, a report on “The New Politics of Judicial Elections, 2011-12” attracted headlines on Thursday, the day it was released online.

Co-authored by Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics, the report documented unprecedented spending of $24.1 million by special interest groups and political parties on television ads and other election materials in state court races during the last election cycle.

“New report shows NC Supreme Court race drew record outside spending,” declared the headline for a (Raleigh) News & Observer blog post. Overall spending added up to more than $4.4 million, including $3.8 million in outside spending, on the North Carolina race between incumbent Justice Paul Newby and Judge Sam Ervin IV.

“Our courts are supposed to be a safe place for impartial justice, but campaign cash and political pressure are threatening to tip the scales,” the post quoted Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, as saying. “If Americans start thinking of judges as politicians in robes, our democracy is in trouble.” Read more

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