NC Editorial: Strengthen Public Funding System

North Carolina’s second-largest paper editorializes today that the state’s “laudable” public financing system will continue to face challengers to its viability unless either the state’s elections board or the state legislature clarify exactly what connotes an “independent” expenditure.  The editorial cites the 2006 example of a supposedly “independent” 527 group that pumped money into drive up the name identification of four candidates, three of whom were Democrats.  The editorial notes that one of the staffers for the 527 was also a consultant to the Democratic party committee backing the three, which calls into question the apparent lack of coordination.  The Raleigh News & Observer editorial notes: “Vexing as it will be to balance sensible rulemaking with free speech rights, the effort should be made. Otherwise the 527s will run riot, nonpartisan races will take on even more political baggage and special-interest money will be able to taint the process.”

Missouri House Rejects Politicizing Judicial Selection

A decisive majority of the Missouri House voted today to reject an effort to politicize the state’s first-in-the-nation model system of judicial selection. By a vote of 83-69, Missouri’s state house gave thumbs-down to a proposed amendment to the state’s constitution that would have put the power to pick judges squarely in the hands of the legislative and executive branches of government. The current system employs a nonpartisan commission to review applicants for many of Missouri’s judgeships, and that commission then forwards a short list of three to the governor, who makes the final choice. The voters of the state then have the opportunity to approve or reject the selection at the next general election. The “Missouri Plan” was adopted in 1940, and his since been replicated in more than 30 states. Read more…

Wisconsin, Grisham and Correcting the Record

It’s been an interesting spring for judicial elections. Wisconsin just endured its second meltdown campaign in two years, with special interests from both sides pouring in millions to elect their favorite candidates. (We’ve got a fact sheet.)

In bookstores, John Grisham’s latest bestseller, The Appeal, has been stirring up some interesting reactions. It wraps a legal thriller around a judicial election. The prime villain is a CEO spending millions to unseat a state Supreme Court justice in order to get a costly pollution verdict overturned. The action is set in Mississippi, but the issues have resonated around the country, and Grisham himself has pointed to West Virginia’s recent travails.

Recently the Wall Street Journal weighed in. In the process, they took a swipe at Justice at Stake, and included some inaccurate statements. We thought that it would be useful to share a letter to the editor the Journal chose not to publish, submitted by Ohio Chief Justice Thomas Moyer (a member of Justice at Stake’s Board).Read more…

Newseum to Host ABA-Sponsored "Rule of Law" Town Hall Meeting

Washington, DC’s newest and glossiest museum – the Newseum – will play host to an April 30 town hall meeting on the rule of law. Pete Williams of NBC News will moderate a distinguished panel that includes Dianna Huffman, a distinguished lecturer at the Philip Merrill School of Journalism and a member of Justice at Stake’s board of directors. All the details, including registration information, are on the ABA’s website.

The Economist: Reform Wisconsin Judicial Races

This week’s print edition of The Economist (on news stands Friday) includes a good story that wraps together the complicated intertwining of the tort battles and judicial elections in Wisconsin.  The Economist cites Justice at Stake’s January survey of Wisconsin voters (a poll conducted by American Viewpoint, a respected Republican polling firm, well before the Butler-Gableman campaign got noisy) as part of the basis for this conclusion:  “…Elections themselves are unlikely to be scrapped. More feasible would be to pass reforms, such as public financing for campaigns or stricter rules to prevent conflicts of interest. In Wisconsin politicians and Supreme Court judges all work beneath the state capitol’s giant dome. It is getting hard to tell the difference between them.”  Nicely said.