This politicization of the courts was the focus of a recent report from Brennan Center For Justice at the New York University Law School. In it, the authors examine the growing cost of state Supreme Court races, and the heightened potential influence donor dollars might have on the judges that receive them..
The report found that record-breaking money is being spent on state Supreme Court races across the country. And that’s led court-watchers and advocates of independent jurisprudence to worry aloud whether all this money is undermining courts seen as the last word in state law disputes and a check on the executive and legislative branches of state government.
Maida Milone, president and CEO or Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group that’s monitored the state’s Supreme Court races for 20 years and is an advocate for changes in the way judges are seated, agreed with Bannon’s assertion that party politics played a large role in the high cost of the contests.
“It was an opportunity to make an impact on the bench – either on the partisan leaning or the philosophies of the judges,” Milone said.
According to the Brennan Center report, about $5.7 million of the money spent on state Supreme Court races in Pennsylvania in 2015 was from independent groups that relied on dark money. It’s impossible to trace where it came from and what influence was expected in return, and Milone said that creates an appearance of impropriety that needs to be avoided.
Read the whole article at Courthouse News.
I’ve written about this before. I’ve done so for years. I’m doing so again. And I’ll tell you why.
When it comes to judicial elections, especially for state courts, our current system creates an impression that justice is for sale.
And even if it’s not? Even if it’s only for rent? There are sound reasons to reform the system to raise the level of public trust in our politics and courts.
“Judges are supposed to be nonideological, nonpartisan and impartial,” says Maida Milone, president of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a group working for judicial merit selection, “They shouldn’t have D’s and R’s after their names. They shouldn’t take money from people and groups who might end up in their courtrooms.”
Yet they do.
Read the whole article at the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Maida Millone, executive director of advocacy group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, says that all potential statewide judges should be required to submit their names to a citizens appellate nominating commission.
“Not every individual submits, so we’re not always comparing apples to apples,” she said of the process as it stands.
This is a key part of a “merit selection” bill awaiting action in the state House that would replace elections with an initial nomination and would give voters the ability to weigh in on retention four years later.
Millone emphasized that the proposed nominating process would differ from the federal system. The Trump administration has nominated four prospective judges that have received the lowest ranking from the American Bar Association, but this would be unlikely to happen under the merit selection process, she said.
“Ten of 13 members on the nominating committee need to agree before presenting a name to the governor,” she said. “You’re not going to see a situation where, as on the federal side, just one person — the president — can simply propose someone to the bench, regardless of what that person’s qualifications are.”
Advocates have pushed for an end to partisan judicial elections in Pennsylvania for years to no avail, and the prospects of the latest bill remain uncertain. If voters are picking statewide judges again in 2019, the statewide bar association might want to look to the example set by the Philadelphia Bar Association this past spring, when it dispatched lawyers to polling places to distribute information about its own judicial evaluations for the primary election.
Read the full article at Law360.
The mean and ugly attack ads which we all saw on our televisions in the last few weeks of the race for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and the similar ads that appeared two years ago during the Supreme Court race, are not simply offensive to many of us but they raise serious concerns for our state’s judicial system.
It is time for everyone to accept the responsibility to put a stop to this. It is time to heed the teachings of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts that we abandon partisan statewide judicial elections in favor of a sensible merit selection process that will ensure competency and stem the rapidly eroding confidence in the impartiality of our courts.
Read the rest at the Post-Gazette.
by Mary Beth Schluckebier
Every Election Day, big or small, is extraordinary — energized by the patriots of the past and the possibility of change for tomorrow. It is an opportunity to exercise what is, for many of us, the hard-earned right to vote. It’s a day for dissenters to secure their right to complain for the term to come, and for Americans everywhere to don their red, white, and blue stickers in proud proclamation of completing their civic duty. The magnitude of the day is never lost on me.
This Election Day, however, is also a perfect opportunity to share why, as a threshold matter, we should not be voting for judges. Pennsylvania is only one of a handful of states where judges are elected. At both the trial and appellate level, candidates run for a 10-year term via partisan races. Inevitably, the judicial selection process is fueled by money, most of which comes from lawyers, unions, and businesses likely to have cases before the judge, especially at the state Supreme Court level.
Read more at WHYY.
Maida Milone, who heads Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said it was unfortunate to see such mixed messages in judicial ads. But by her lights, it’s unfortunate to see judicial ads at all.
“This is not a Sallie Mundy issue: It’s an issue of the system,” said Ms. Milone, whose organization favors appointing, rather than electing, judges. “If you have partisan elections, you’re going to have partisan advertising.”
Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Are you good with names? Try these.
Carolyn Nichols, Maria McLaughlin, Deborah Anne Kunselman, and Geoff Moulton. If you don’t recognize these try another group: Wade Kagarise, Craig Stedman, Emil Giordano, and Mary Murray.
Still a little fuzzy about who they are? You are not alone.
Probably 95 percent of the voters heading to the voting booths on Nov. 7 won’t recognize them either. The first four names are the Democratic candidates for the state Superior Court. The latter four names are the Republican candidates for the same court.
Read more at City&State PA.
Schuylkill County is set to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funding to expand its drug treatment court.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., announced Wednesday that he helped secure $400,000 for the county to hire additional personnel to assist with the county court created earlier this year for defendants trying to overcome substance abuse. The county will receive a total of $400,000 over the course of three years.
Read the full story in the Republican Herald.
Rep. Russ Diamond (R-Lebanon) said he has introduced legislation that would exempt emergency services personnel from jury duty in an effort to not compromise public safety.
“I believe that our dedicated emergency services folks should be available at all times to respond to threats to public health and safety,” said Diamond. “Granted, jury duty is a public service, but the volunteer fire and emergency service technicians are charged with saving lives, many times in an immediate fashion. This exemption from jury service should become law so that we will have all of our first-responders ready to go at a moment’s notice.”
Diamond said a constituent who serves as a volunteer firefighter contacted him for help to be excused from jury duty as the work was in a small department, and would have a significant impact on that company’s ability to respond to emergencies. Despite a letter being sent from the chief of the department, the request was denied. He added that this excuse is not written into law.
“This bill is needed because it is a commonsense provision to aid in the protection of our communities,” said Diamond.
House Bill 1837 is awaiting committee assignment.
On November 7th, voters will select justices to fill three seats on Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court. Across the country – including in Pennsylvania – state supreme court elections have become increasingly high-cost and politicized, posing serious threats to the integrity of state courts. As it has in the past, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law will be tracking, analyzing, and publishing television spending data from these elections.
Key trends to watch include:
“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania continues to be at the forefront of a troubling new trend – massive outside spending in judicial races that threatens to erode the confidence of the public in our judiciary and, in some cases, create serious ethical conflicts when judges are forced to confront issues that affect their donors,” said Douglas Keith, counsel at the Brennan Center.
"Campaign spending on partisan elections for appellate court positions has continued its troubling and record-breaking rise. Consequently, we are redoubling our efforts to amend Pennsylvania's constitution so that we select judges and justices based on merit, not money,” Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts President & CEO Maida Milone said. “Justice in Pennsylvania should not go to the highest bidder.”
These races are taking place while Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives is considering HB 111, which would put before voters a constitutional amendment to end partisan contested elections for the state’s highest courts. Instead, the amendment would put in place a nominating commission with 13 members appointed by the Governor and General Assembly leaders to vet and recommend judicial candidates to the Governor for appointment. Justices would still face retention elections for subsequent terms.
Spending estimates for the 2017 contests as well as copies of ads and storyboards provided by Kantar Media/CMAG will be available at the Brennan Center’s Buying Time page. Data from Pennsylvania's 2015 election is available at Buying Time 2015. (CMAG’s calculations do not reflect ad agency commissions or the costs of producing advertisements, nor do they reflect the cost of ad buys on local cable channels.)
The Brennan Center for Justice, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and formerly Justice at Stake, have documented trends in spending in state supreme court elections since 2000 in a series of reports titled The New Politics of Judicial Elections.
Read more about the Brennan Center’s work on Fair Courts.
For more information or to speak with an expert, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or email@example.com.
What you'll find
PMC press releases, statements, and news coverage of our work, in addition to the latest news on Pennsylvania's courts, judicial elections, ethics, discipline and more.
Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a statewide nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to ensuring that all Pennsylvanians can come to our courts with confidence that they will be heard by qualified, fair, and impartial judges
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