Fair Courts E-lert: West Virginia Public Financing Program Faces Limited Funding

June 6, 2013

White House Push for Judicial Nominations Faces Questions
The White House announced three new nominees for the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. However, a piece in The Atlantic by Andrew Cohen predicted the Obama administration’s newest push to put judicial nominees on the bench will not be successful absent changes to Senate filibuster rules. “The vast majority of the president's judicial nominees have been endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support -- meaning that the senators with the most access to information about the candidates, and the most expertise in evaluating their credentials, have endorsed the nominees,” Cohen writes. “None of this matters much, however, when these nominations move to the Senate floor. Take Robert Bachrach (10th Circuit), William Kayatta (1st Circuit) and Richard Taranto (Federal Circuit), for example. Their nominations sailed through the Judiciary Committee. But each candidate had to wait hundreds of days before Republican leaders in the Senate permitted a vote. And when these qualified candidates finally were given a vote, the count came out overwhelmingly in favor of their nominations.” The piece concludes, “What the nation needs, then, is not another self-defeating partisan showdown between the White House and Senate Republicans over these judges. What the nation needs is for those judges to be confirmed, more quickly than their predecessors have, so that they can resolve the nation's cases and controversies. That much is clear -- as is the likelihood that President Obama's new nominees will have to wait at least a year or so before they finally move on to the first day of the rest of their lives.”
Sources: Michael Shear, Obama Names 3 to Top Appeals Court in Challenge to Republicans, New York Times, June 4, 2013; Andrew Cohen, Why the New White House Push for Judicial Nominees Won't Work, The Atlantic, May 28, 2013.


West Virginia Public Financing Program Faces Limited Funding
West Virginia’s pilot public financing program for Supreme Court races was recently made permanent by the legislature, but funding is expected to be an issue. According to the Associated Press, West Virginia's State Election Commission noted last week the program “will only have an estimated $1.5 million to offer when a court seat is next on the ballot in 2016” because “the recently concluded [legislative] session did not include additional funding or revenue sources.” The legislature adjusted the program’s funding amounts in response to a 2012 West Virginia Supreme Court decision, which invalidated a provision in the law that provided publicly financed candidates matching funds in response to spending by other candidates or outside groups. The article explained, “Those facing a contested primary will receive $300,000 while a contested general election will trigger $525,000. The pilot had initially offered $200,000 for a primary [and] $350,000 for a general election if there were competing candidates, with the now-voided matching funds provision increasing the available amounts to $600,000 and $700,000, respectively.”
Source: Lawrence Messina, Funding An Issue For Supreme Court Candidate Public Financing; Program To Have $1.5M Balance, Associated Press via The Republic, May 30, 2013.


Judges Resign in Tennessee, Cause Commission to Scramble
Tennessee’s judicial nominating commission has only a short time to fill vacant positions left by two judges who are stepping down. During the past legislative session, “Lawmakers neglected to extend the life of the Judicial Nominating Commission beyond June 30, leaving commissioners scrambling to nominate replacements for [Court of Criminal Appeals Judges Joseph M. Tipton and Patricia J. Cottrell],” according to an editorial in the Knoxville News Sentinel. The piece complains that “[a] hurried nomination process shortchanges possible nominees and could result in an ill-advised appointment,” and urges the legislature to “fix the mess it made.” According to the editorial, “[w]hen the Judicial Nominating Commission ceases to exist June 30, the state will have no method of replacing judges who leave the bench.” Although “legislators approved a constitutional amendment referendum for the November 2014 election that would give the governor the duty of appointing appellate court judges, with confirmation to follow by the Legislature,” “[e]ven if the voters approve the constitutional amendment in November 2014, the state will go months without a way to fill unexpected court vacancies.”
Source: Editorial, Legislature Must Fix Mess It Made For Judicial Branch, Knoxville News Sentinel, May 31, 2013.


New York Ethics Panel Rules on Facebook “Friends”
According to Thomson Reuters, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics concluded that a “judge’s Facebook friendship with the parents of victims of an alleged crime is not sufficient to warrant the judge’s recusal from the case.” The article explained that the Committee concluded “that on Facebook, the term 'friend' was loosely defined and did not in itself suggest a potential conflict of interest.” The article stated that “New York is one of at least nine states in which ethics panels have weighed in on judges' use of social media. Most of the opinions affirm the view that joining a social networking site is not inherently unethical, but that judges should tread carefully and disclose connections on a case-by-case basis.”
Source: Daniel Wiessner, Advisory Committee Weighs In On Judges' Facebook Friendship, Thompson Reuters, May 31, 2013.