Fair Courts E-Lert: NC Supreme Court Allows Rewritten Constitutional Amendments on Ballot; State Farm Settles for $250 Million in Racketeering Case

September 7, 2018

 

 
 
 

STATE COURTS

North Carolina Supreme Court Allows Rewritten Constitutional Amendments to Appear on Ballot

On Tuesday, the North Carolina Supreme Court ruled against Governor Roy Cooper, who had sued to block two proposed constitutional amendments from appearing on ballots in November. The amendments, introduced by the Republican-controlled legislature, would substantially transfer power from the governor to the state legislature, including by limiting the governor’s ability to select judges to fill judicial vacancies while giving a major role in the process to the legislature.
 
Cooper alleged the ballot language describing the amendments was misleading, and earlier this month, a panel of North Carolina Superior Court judges agreed, blocking the two amendments from appearing on ballots with the General Assembly’s proposed language. Following that decision, the legislature reconvened and made changes to the amendments and the accompanying language, and Cooper sued again.
 
The panel determined that, while the new language “may not be the most accurate or articulate description of the purpose and effect of these provisions,” it could not determine that it is “so misleading, standing alone, so as to violate the constitutional requirements.” The North Carolina Supreme Court affirmed the panel’s decision in a one sentence order.

 

STATE COURTS

State Farm Settles for $250 Million in Racketeering Case About Judicial Election

This week, just before trial was set to begin in a federal racketeering lawsuit alleging insurance giant State Farm orchestrated a scheme to influence an Illinois Supreme Court election, to avoid a $1 billion verdict against them, the company settled for $250 million.
 
The original $1.1 billion verdict came down in 1999, five years before Chief Justice Lloyd Karmeier was elected to the Illinois Supreme Court in the most expensive state supreme court race of all time. The year after Karmeier’s election, he cast a crucial vote overturning the award against State Farm.   
 
According to Bloomberg, the plaintiffs in the current litigation alleged that, in order to avoid payment of the billion-dollar judgment, State Farm led “an effort to recruit a judge friendly to its cause for the Illinois Supreme Court, secretly funding Judge Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 election campaign by funneling money through advocacy groups that didn’t disclose donors.” The plaintiffs claimed that State Farm spent more than $3.5 million to elect Karmeier, who was scheduled to testify at trial. The plaintiffs sought $8.5 billion in damages.
 
Alicia Bannon, Deputy Director for Program Management at the Brennan Center for Justice, explained, “One of the concerns that underlies this case is that courts are increasingly hearing cases involving major campaign supporters, creating the appearance that they may be putting a thumb on the scale when they make decisions. So the idea that big money interests in judicial elections are affecting the integrity of our court systems is a very real concern.”

 

SUPREME COURT NOMINATION

Kavanaugh Hearings Enter Fourth Day

Today marks the fourth day of hearings for Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, in which judicial independence and legitimacy have been central issues.

Kavanaugh began his testimony Wednesday by attesting to the value of judicial independence. He said, “I think the first quality of a good judge in our Constitutional system is independence… Not being swayed by political or public pressure…That takes some judicial fortitude.”

Democratic Senator Whitehouse (D-RI) questioned Kavanaugh about the Judicial Crisis Network, the primary funder of pro-Kavanaugh ads. Whitehouse asked Kavanaugh, “Should the American people have concern about the role of very, very big spenders and influencers doing things like being involved in the selection of a Supreme Court nominee and running dark money campaigns to support the confirmation of a nominee?” Kavanaugh answered, in part, “On the ads, there are a lot of ads against me as well, and I’ve seen those.” Whitehouse pressed, “Should we as citizens know who’s funding the ads?”
 
According to the Brennan Center’s analysis, JCN has run ads worth three times more than the next biggest spender – and more than double all anti-Kavanaugh ads combined.

 

FEDERAL JUDICIAL NOMINATIONS

Agreement Struck to Expedite Federal Judicial Nominees; Senate Confirms Nominee Rated “Not Qualified” by American Bar Association

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) struck a compromise to expedite the approval of 15 federal judicial nominees and four non-judicial nominees.
 
While a Senate Democratic aide said “the majority of the nominees greenlit…were uncontroversial,” some Democrats have critiqued the agreement. Brian Fallon, of Demand Justice, said, “It is hard to think of a more pathetic surrender heading into the Kavanaugh hearings.”
 
Even before party leaders struck this agreement, Trump had filled federal judicial vacancies at a record pace – he has already had 26 circuit court nominees confirmed, more than any recent president at this point in their presidency.
 
One nominee confirmed as part of the deal, Charles Barnes Goodwin, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, was rated “not qualified” for the position by the American Bar Association Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary. This marked the third time that the Senate confirmed a Trump nominee rated “not qualified” by the ABA.