Fair Courts E-lert: Pennsylvania Justices Retained After Facing Opposition

November 6, 2013

STATE SUPREME COURT ELECTIONS

Pennsylvania Justices Retained After Facing Opposition
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justices Ronald Castille and Max Baer have retained their seats after several groups opposed their reelection to the state’s high court, reports watchdog.org. The Independence Hall Tea Party PAC first spoke out against the justices last year, vowing to oppose their retention if they did not uphold the state’s voter ID law and authorize its implementation before the November 5, 2013 retention election. Because the law is currently enjoined from taking effect, the PAC issued a press release last week, saying, “The PAC is urging voters to give both justices an early retirement for thwarting the will of the people and Pennsylvania law by refusing to implement Voter ID.” Pennsylvania group Rock the Capital also campaigned against Chief Justice Castille, publishing a list of the top ten reasons to oppose his retention.  A poor judicial temperament, leasing a luxury car at taxpayer expense, and political favoritism were among the group’s claims. Both justices ran campaign ads in the days leading up to the election, with Justice Baer’s consultants suggesting he run an ad highlighting his experience with children’s issues after a poll found there to be a strong level of public anger against incumbents. Chief Justice Castille retained his seat with 68 percent of the vote, Justice Baer with 71 percent.
Sources: Eric Boehm, Castille, Baer win retention to PA Supreme Court despite grassroots opposition, watchdog.org, November 6, 2013; Don Adams, Hold justices accountable on voter IDPhiladelphia Inquirer, September 30, 2012; Group Urges 'No' Vote on Retention of PA Supreme Court Justices Ron Castille and Max Baer, Independence Hall Tea Party PAC, October 31, 2013; Eric Epstein, Disorder in the Court”: Top Ten Reasons Not to Retain Supreme Court Chief Justice Castille, Rock the Capital, November 4, 2013; Fair Courts E-lert: New Report Documents Unprecedented Spending on Judicial Elections, Brennan Center for Justice, October 31, 2013.

INDEPENDENT JUDICIARY

Governor’s Selection Process for Judicial Nominating Commission Criticized in Florida
A recent editorial in the Tampa Bay Times criticizes Governor Rick Scott for refusing to consider lawyers who do not share his views when selecting members for the state’s Judicial Nominating Commissions (JNC). The state of Florida uses a series of JNCs to propose qualified judicial candidates for appellate and certain trial courts, from which the governor makes his appointments for judgeships. Previously, “Each JNC would be made up of nine members: three appointed by the governor, three appointed by the Florida Bar, and three who would be chosen by the six appointed members.” Under Governor Jeb Bush, the process was changed, allowing the governor to appoint all nine members of a Commission. The Board of Governors of the Florida Bar does provide the governor with a list of recommendations from which he must choose four of the nine members, but overall, this change gave the governor a much more prominent role in the selection process.  “So far, Scott has rejected 16 lists of nominees that have come from the Bar, without giving a reason. Many of the seasoned, qualified attorneys that Scott turned away are registered Democrats, have ties to left-leaning groups or are trial lawyers.” The editorial concludes by warning of the damage this new practice could cause to the judicial independence of Florida’s courts.
Source: Editorial: Scott puts politics into judiciaryTampa Bay Times, November 1, 2013.  

Change in Jurisdiction Prompts Cries of Politicization in Michigan Courts
Brian Dickerson of the Detroit Free Press criticized State Senator Rick Jones for allegedly injecting politics into the Michigan judiciary by introducing a bill that would transfer jurisdiction over most lawsuits against the state from Ingham County Circuit Court, where they have historically been heard, to a panel of four Appeals Court judges chosen by the state Supreme Court. Dickerson argues that because Republicans hold a majority on the Supreme Court, this would mean that cases will be heard by judges appointed by Republican governors. “So, litigants with a beef against the Republican governor or the Republican-led Legislature would have to clear a skeptical audience of Republican judges before they were entitled to put their cases before a jury of their peers.” State Senator Jones claims the change would “cut costs and enable plaintiffs who must currently file suits against the state in Ingham County to file in any of four venues across Michigan.” But Dickerson claims Republicans in the state are really concerned with “the preponderance of Democratic voters in Ingham County, where most elected judges have ties to the Democratic Party, organized labor, or both.”
Sources: Brian Dickerson, Michigan State Senate makes mockery of judicial independenceDetroit Free Press, November 1, 2013; Senate Bill 0652 (2013), Michigan Legislature.

Change in Chief Justice Selection Process Comes Before Wisconsin Legislature
Identical Republican-backed constitutional amendments making their way through the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly would change the way the state’s chief justice is selected, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. The amendments, which were approved on party-line votes in committee and now face final votes, would permit the state’s seven Supreme Court justices to choose their chief justice. The Wisconsin Constitution currently requires the longest serving justice to assume the role of chief. “Under this proposal, the chief justice would be elected every two years by a majority vote of his or her peers for no more than six consecutive years.” State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst), a lead sponsor of the bill, said, “At the heart of it, it would foster collegiality. I think it’s very important… that we have a system that fosters greater collegiality... and takes the politics out.” But state Representative Gary Hebl (D-Sun Prairie) sees it differently: “It’s a constitutional amendment ... to enforce what the (Republican legislative) majority wants to do. This bill is a purely political attack on Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson. I’m opposed to a constitutional amendment for such a petty, political issue as this.” Abrahamson has served as chief justice for 17 years and forms part of the court’s three-judge liberal minority. “Last session, a similar proposal was defeated on a technicality on the Assembly floor and its companion failed to advance in the Senate.”  In order to amend the state Constitution, the proposal must be approved by two successive legislatures, and then pass a statewide referendum.
Source: Dee J. Hall, Lawmakers mull proposal to allow justices to choose their own chiefWisconsin State Journal, November 3, 2013.