Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in Williams v. Pennsylvania, a U.S. Supreme Court case involving an elected Pennsylvania judge who campaigned for office as tough on crime. The brief states that Terrance Williams was denied his due process rights last year when then-Chief Justice Ronald Castille of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, who had campaigned for office on tough-on-crime themes, declined Williams’ request to step aside from hearing an appeal in his death penalty case.
Oral arguments at the U.S. Supreme Court will take place in early 2016. The case, with its emphasis on the part played by a tough Pennsylvania judicial campaign, comes just weeks after the state experienced another hard-fought Supreme Court election that made history as the most expensive ever held in the U.S. (see Gavel Grab). It also comes as a reform measure that would replace contested elections with merit selection for the state’s highest courts is advancing in Pennsylvania’s legislature (see Gavel Grab).
“When judges facing re-election decide criminal cases, scholarly research increasingly shows that tough-on-crime judicial campaign politicking results in harsher sentences,” Liz Seaton, JAS Interim Executive Director, said in a statement released as the Williams brief was filed.