Judicial elections

  • August 4, 2014

    by Caroline Cox

    In The Washington Post, Maurice Possley of The Marshall Project writes that new evidence raises doubts about the 2004 Texas execution of Cameron Todd Willingham. “This case could be the first to show conclusively that an innocent man was put to death in the modern era of capital punishment.”

    Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law for the University of Chicago,  former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter, explains in The Daily Beast that the flood of judicial rulings holding bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional are not the result of public opinion shifts. Rather, the Supreme Court opened the door to these decisions long before support for gay marriage became more mainstream.

    Collin Eaton, writing for The Houston Chronicle, reports that BP has asked the Supreme Court to reverse lower court rulings on the approved settlement class for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The petition asserts that claimants should have to show that their losses were directly tied to the spill.

    The Tennessean’s Brian Haas reports on the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election, noting the large amount of money conservative groups have spent to campaign against the justices.

    Christine Vestal of Stateline discusses the challenges many state health insurance exchanges face in light of the Halbig v. Burwell ruling. Consumers in 36 states risk losing future premium subsidies if the Supreme Court rules in favor of Affordable Care Act opponents. 

  • April 23, 2014
     
    At The Daily BeastGeoffrey R. Stone, former ACS Board Chair and current Co-Chair of the Board of Advisors for the ACS Chicago Lawyer Chapter as well as Co-Faculty Advisor for the University of Chicago Law School ACS Student Chapter, discusses his experience on the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies and why “constant, rigorous, and independent review is essential if we are to strike the proper balance between liberty and security in a changing world.”
     
    The Supreme Court heard oral argument yesterday in a case involving an “Ohio law that criminalizes the spreading of false information about a political candidate during a campaign.”  The challenge comes after an anti-abortion rights group mischaracterized former Rep. Steve Driehaus’ (D-Ohio) stance on abortion during his 2010 reelection campaign. Robert Barnes at The Washington Post has the story.
     
    Yesterday, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan’s ban on Affirmative Action in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the plurality while Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote an impassioned dissent. Writing for SCOTUSblog, Amy Howe details the case.
     
    Peter Hardin at GavelGrab notes that if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie chooses not to reappoint Chief Justice Stuart Rabner it could “give rise to the perception that Christie was attempting to intimidate judges working without tenure.”
     
    At The New Yorker’s Daily Comment Hendrik Hertzberg explains New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision to join the National Popular Vote (NPV) interstate compact.
  • February 19, 2014
     
    In an interview with NPR’s Robert Siegel and Audie Cornish, Daniel Webster—Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research—discusses the grave consequences that followed Missouri’s 2007 repeal of a law requiring background checks for gun buyers.
     
    President Obama continues to face criticism concerning the diversity of his judicial nominees. MSNBC’s Adam Serwer reports on growing liberal concern surrounding the president’s judicial nominees in Georgia.
     
    Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic reflects on the Jordan Davis murder, eloquently identifying racism in America as “not merely a belief system but a heritage.”
     
    A group of legal organizations are using television advertising to push the issue of court transparency at the Supreme Court. Josh Gerstein of Politico has the story.
     
    At CAC’s Text & History Blog, Tom Donnelly shares “six reasons to keep an eye on the Greenhouse Gas Cases.”
     
    Matt Bodie at Prawfs Blawg argues in favor of incentivizing cheaper law school course material.
  • November 12, 2013
     
    The Washington Post recently published a "Letter to the Editor" from ACS President Caroline Fredrickson, which touched on the pernicious influence of campaign contributions on state courts. 
     
    In response to a Post article citing efforts by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to push its agenda through various state courts (perhaps having realized federal courts have already been conquered), Fredrickson cited ACS’s 2013 report, Justice at Risk, which provides an empirical analysis of campaign contributions and their impact state judicial decisions. As Fredrickson noted, the data shows that “the more campaign contributions from business interests that justices receive, the more likely they are to side with business litigants.”
     
    Since its release in June, Justice at Risk has been routinely cited by media outlets across the nation, including: The Atlantic, Mother Jones, The Des Moines Register, The Miami Herald and many others.  As former Montana Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson phrased it in the pages of The Missoulian, Justice at Risk is an “objective, non-partisan report . . . [that] provides critical data on the effect of campaign expenditures on judicial behavior from 2010-2012.”
     
    For more information on Justice at Risk, please visit the ACS State Courts Resources page on our website.
  • September 3, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor recently remarked that money flowing into campaigns for seats on state courts creates the “impression, rightly or wrongly” that judges are beholden to their campaign contributors. In a stunning interview with Andrew Cohen for a piece in The Atlantic, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willett agrees that judicial campaigns do indeed undermine citizens’ expectations of fair and impartial courts.

    Cohen, a contributing editor at The Atlantic and legal analyst for “60 Minutes,” asked Willett to respond to Justice at Risk, a report issued this summer by ACS on campaign contributions to state Supreme Court justices and state court decision-making. In part the study found a significant relationship between business group contributions to state Supreme Court justices and the voting of those justices in cases involving business matters. Indeed the report found that a justice who receives half of his or her contributions from business groups would be expected to vote in favor of business interests almost two-thirds of the time. Justice at Risk also noted that because of recent opinions by the U.S. Supreme Court there is more and more money flowing into judicial campaigns via business interests.

    Cohen notes that Willett “graciously” agreed to read the report and then respond to questions about “judicial elections and the role campaign contributions play in them.” (Last year for The Atlantic, Cohen covered the Texas system for electing judges, noting Willett’s campaign-style website.) Cohen describes Willett’s comments about Justice at Risk as “both candid and frightening.”

    Willett provides a fairly lengthy response to Cohen, conceding that he strongly understands the “suspicion that donations drive decisions. That skepticism siphons public confidence, and that’s toxic to the idea of an impartial, independent judiciary. I can only speak for myself and say that it flatly doesn’t happen.”

    Willett adds that if the Texas Supreme Court issues opinions that are business friendly it is more likely the fault of Texas lawmakers. “My court doesn’t put a finger on the scale to ensure that preferred groups or causes win, but the Legislature sure does. Lawmakers are fond of lawmaking, and the business lobby exerts significant influence on state policymaking.”

    Part of Cohen’s response:

    The justice is saying that he holds his nose while he campaigns for votes by pledging to be "conservative" and by placing the endorsements of men like James Dobson and Foster Friess (and current Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott) on prominent places on his website. (How would you feel, as an atheist, with Justice Willett on your case?) And he is saying that the decidedly pro-business Texas legislature is more to blame than the decidedly pro-business Supreme Court for the decidedly pro-business bent of Texas law. They have reaped what they have sown.

    For on more about money and courts see ACS’s State Courts Resources Page.