Archive for December, 2012

Dec 18 2012

JAS and the Brennan Center: Spending on Judicial Elections shatters record in 2012

Published by under Judicial Elections

New information indicates that spending in the 2011-2012 judicial election cycle was even higher than previously reported, topping

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$29.7 million and setting

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a new record, according to a press release issued by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice. The previous record was $24.4 million, set in 2004.
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This news follows a December 8, 2012 runoff election in Louisiana to replace a retiring Supreme Court Justice. The last two weeks of the contest alone saw $113,000 spent, with a quarter of that coming from a single outside PAC.

We are likely see this record regularly broken in the years to come. Judicial elections will see massive and increasing quantities of cash burned to fuel political machines, and soon, “money as speech” will be the only audible voice remaining for the people to hear. We need a new way of selecting our judges.

For some of our recent articles on judicial election spending, see A Closer Look at Judicial Election Campaigns and Money Undermines Impartiality.

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Dec 17 2012

Merit Selection System Preserves Competition

Published by under Opinion

According to an op-ed published in the Lawrence Journal-World, Lawton R. Nuss, Chief Justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, the competition inherent in a merit selection system produces the kind of “winners” that Americans love.
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Kansas currently selects judges for the Kansas Supreme Court and the Kansas Court of Appeals through a merit selection process where a nine member nominating commission provides the governor with a short list of names from which he or she must appoint a judge. The judge will then stand for periodic retention elections. Kansas legislators and lawyers are currently debating the best composition of the nominating commission, which is currently made up of five lawyers elected by the bar association with the remaining four members appointed by the governor.

In the op-ed, Justice Nuss details his lengthy road to becoming a Supreme Court justice. “I tried to improve my competitiveness,” Justice Nuss said.  “To hone my writing and analytical skills, I researched and wrote several legal articles for publication and volunteered to author appellate briefs for other lawyers. To sharpen my understanding of the law’s application to the real world, I sought more cases to try to Kansas juries. To achieve a broader perspective of the law,

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I expanded my law practice to include additional legal fields.”

Notably, neither political connections nor fundraising prowess were cited as reasons for Justice Nuss’s nomination to the Kansas Supreme Court. Instead, the nominating commission and the governor focused solely on the skills that made him qualified to be a fair and impartial arbiter of justice. This is the power of a merit selection system. It is time for Pennsylvanians to take politics out of the courts in order to ensure that only the most qualified, fair and impartial judges preside over cases.

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Dec 07 2012

High Intrigue Affairs

Published by under Judicial Elections

“Pennsylvania’s biennial judicial races tend to be low attention but high intrigue affairs, with much of the action happening at party state committee meetings.”

It’s a little sentence buried at the end of a Politics PA article, but it sure is a loaded statement. In one, simple statement, the highly politicized nature of Pennsylvania’s judicial elections is revealed.

It’s no secret that the currency of political parties is power, and the judiciary holds a lot of it. Ideally, that power would be held in check by judicial independence and a strict adherence to the law. But partisan judicial elections put that power into play by undermining independence and casting a shadow of prejudice over the bench.

Many areas , but it sure is a loaded statement. In one, simple statement, the highly politicized nature of Pennsylvania’s judicial elections is revealed.

It’s no secret that the currency of political parties is power, and the judiciary holds a lot of it. Ideally, that power would be held in check by judicial independence and a strict adherence to the law. But partisan judicial elections put that power into play by undermining independence and casting a shadow of prejudice over the bench.

Many areas of the Commonwealth are politically entrenched. Judicial elections are often decided during the primaries because voters are sure to vote their party loyalty in the general election. This means that judicial candidates have to jockey for party

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support if they expect to have any chance of winning.

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Politics is the domain of the other governmental branches – not the judiciary. Partisan maneuvering has no place in the courthouse. Equal justice and liberty for all are supposed to reign

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supreme. As long as judges are forced to engage in electoral politics, the public will be skeptical about the quality of justice being served by our courts.

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Dec 04 2012

A rekindling of judicial selection reform in Ohio

Published by under Merit Selection

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor has long supported a system where justices at the appellate level would be initially appointed rather than elected, and that would instead offer

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voters the opportunity to determine in subsequent retention elections whether the appointed justice should remain on the bench, a position she shares with her predecessor, Chief Justice Tom Moyer. While past initiatives have failed, O’Connor’s enthusiasm for judicial selection reform is not dampened.

“What we need is a system for selecting judges that is fair, that gives the people a voice, that allows citizens to make informed decisions,” O’Connor said, “that as much as possible reduces the undue influence of politics on the judicial system, and results in a judiciary that is highly qualified, independent and impartial.” O’Connor would also like to see party affiliations removed from primary elections, calling party affiliation “irrelevant” and saying it has no place in judicial selection.

O’Connor suggests that the time may be nearing for such a new reforms to be instituted in Ohio. “Recent events have led to a groundswell of support for renewing the discussion on judicial selection reform, from the bench, to leaders of the bar, to the business community, and editorial boards. I intend to lead a concerted effort in the coming months to arrive at a package of reforms that will enjoy widespread support and can be enacted into law.”

The “recent events” O’Connor is referring to may be the election of Butler County Domestic Relations Court Judge Sharon Kennedy to the Ohio Supreme Court. According to a Hamilton, Ohio JournalNews that Kennedy was less qualified than incumbent Justice Yvette McGee Brown, and that voters incorrectly decided the election in Kennedy’s favor. Uninformed voters, who had insufficient knowledge to select a candidate, and voters who are simply attracted to Irish names have both been suggested as possible causes.

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Kennedy disagrees, asserting that her main advantage was that her message resonated with voters, and that she is perfectly qualified for the position. She also argued that if the electorate were truly not informed about judicial elections and did not vote based upon qualifications, “then none of [the other Justices’] races have any significance and the people didn’t vote for their credentials either.”

And yes, it may actually be true that many of the people didn’t vote for the sitting court’s credentials. That fact that the problem is endemic to the judicial election system doesn’t mean that it’s acceptable – it indicates, rather, a system that needs to be examined, and if necessary modified to better serve the people of Ohio.

The role of the judiciary is too important to allow chance or something as occupationally unrelated as the origin of a surname to dictate the composition of the bench. The law should endeavor to be above politics, so that the best possible person is selected to be its custodian. Justice O’Connor has said that “everything should be on the table, and we should all keep an open mind about what might work.” We hope that the people of Ohio are equally as open to change, and soon get the chance to choose for their state a better way of selecting judges.

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