Why Are the Tennessee Supreme Court Justices Making “Political” Decisions?

August 27th, 2014

The idea that judges should stay out of politics unites people of just about every political stripe.  So why are Tennessee’s five Supreme Court justices preparing to make “the first political decision” of the new term when they choose the state’s next Attorney General?

Blogger Tom Humphrey’s predicts the outcome will depend on how that “five person electorate” decides “which applicant is in their best political interest.”  Three out of the five justices were appointed to the bench by a Democrat, while two were chosen by a Republican.  Any guess about the political affiliation of the next Tennessee AG?

Over the past few decades, the AG post has evolved into a stridently political position, with AG’s inventing new theories under which to sue businesses and using their position as a launching pad to higher political office.  So what exactly is the rationale for letting five justices make this “political” decision rather than the state’s nearly four million registered voters?

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The Government Shutdown and the Impact on Financial Regulators

August 22nd, 2014

Attorney Mark Pulliam has a great piece in the City Journal that shreds the “pro” arguments for “merit” selection, as well as the “con” arguments against democratic judicial elections.  Some highlights:

  • “In California, merit selection has contributed to the creation of the nation’s top ‘Judicial Hell Hole.’
  • “Texas, [which utilizes judicial elections], is consistently hailed by business groups and CEOs for having one of the nation’s best business climates, ranking first in most surveys.”
  • “Judges sometimes forget – perhaps because they wear black robes, wield a gavel, sit behind an elevated bench, and are called Your Honor – that they are just public servants, no different than legislators or governors.”
  • “We want judges to be ‘independent,’ but we also want them to be accountable … Judges sometimes deserve to be voted off the bench, and the knowledge that they will face voters can motivate them to perform their duties with diligence and integrity.”
  • “ … merit selection is usually controlled by the organized bar.  Lawyers as a group are not representative of the general population, and lawyers active in the state bar (or ABA) tend to be particularly partisan and ideological.  (The policy positions adopted by the House of Delegates of the ABA, for example, are indistinguishable from those of the ACLU, and a far left-of-center of mainstream public opinion.”
  • “Merit selection panels, such as the Judicial Nominees Evaluation (JNE) Commission in California, tend to be captured by special-interest groups … who use the evaluation to black-ball judicial candidates who don’t share their views – such as conservative lawyers or proponents of civil justice reform.”
  • “Merit selection … does not remove politics from judicial selection; it simply takes control from the voters and puts it in the hands of politically active lawyers, while reducing transparency.”

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Legal Reform Seen as Key to Economic Growth in Louisiana

August 18th, 2014

Melissa Landry of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch has a piece on the impact of Louisiana’s lawsuit-happy culture on the state’s economy.  According to Landry, abusive litigation hits state businesses with $1.1 billion per year in legal expenses and costs the state 50,000 jobs.  Three out of four Louisianans support reforms to limit lawsuit abuse, but until action is taken Louisiana will “continue to leave jobs and opportunities on the table,” according to Landry.

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A Victory for Accountability in Tennessee

August 18th, 2014

Three liberal Tennessee Supreme Court justices may have survived their retention elections, but the vote put judges on notice:  Tennesseeans aren’t just going to rubber stamp judges forced on them by the state’s legal elite.  Although the justices received about 56 percent of the vote, the margin was far less than the Putin-like reelection victories of the past.  As Susan Kaestner of the Tennessee Forum put it, “for probably the first time ever, the Supreme Court has been held accountable to some degree.”

Wresting our state judiciaries back from the lawyers’ guild will be a long process.  Tennessee took a step in the right direction by challenging a group of liberal justices who are out of touch with the people they serve.

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A Flood of Money?

August 10th, 2014

Add Bloomberg Businessweek to the list of gullible news outlets duly reporting the Justice at Stake/Brennan Center/Other Soros-Financed Groups line that money is “flooding” into Tennessee’s upcoming retention race for three Supreme Court Justices.  The article tsk-tsks over the $268,000 spent on television ads by outside groups (less than the judges themselves are spending, BTW).  By comparison, that’s about as much as University of Tennessee football fans spent on hot dogs and Cokes at the Vols’ Orange-White spring exhibition game. Some crisis. Personal foul Businessweek – 15 yard penalty.

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Tennessee Justices Outspending Retention Opponents

July 31st, 2014

Despite all the public fretting about money in judicial races, spending in the supposedly “white-hot” Tennessee judicial elections has been pretty tepid.  Gavel Grab notes that total spending in the retention races for three state Supreme Court justices has reached just over $578,500, with the incumbents handily outspending all opponents.  Compared to other statewide races, that’s a drop in the bucket.  Sitting Senator Lamar Alexander has raised nearly more than 12 times that much ($6.9 million-plus), according to an analysis by opensecrets.org.  In fact, the amount raised in seven of the state’s nine congressional races is higher than the statewide totals for the three justices.  All of which goes to show that all the hand-wringing about the alleged “crisis” of spending in judicial races is just a lot of hot air designed to intimidate business groups and other advocates from exercising their First Amendment to participate in the election process – even when it comes to the judges who will serve them.

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The Economic Cost of Lawsuit Abuse

July 31st, 2014

Illinois has spent the last few years making a strong run at becoming America’s economic basket case.  The state’s credit rating is the worst in the nation, while its unemployment rate is second worst.  Growth lags nearby Michigan and Indiana, while the cost of consumer goods and services is far higher.

While there are many sources of Illinois’ decline, including a massive tax increase and a public employee pension crisis, Travis Akin of Illinois Lawsuit Abuse Watch, points to another factor:  the state’s litigious business climate.  As Akin writes in a recent op-ed, Illinois ranked 46th for legal fairness and more than one-third of the state’s small business owners have been sued.  More than 40 Illinois companies have moved to Indiana in recent years, taking over 3,600 jobs with them.  No wonder the Kauffman Foundation gave Illinois a failing grade when it comes to the state’s business environment.

Akin notes that neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin have made lawsuit reform a priority.  Meanwhile, Illinois continues to build on its reputation as a haven for tort lawyers.  Until it reverses course, the state’s economy –and its remaining business owners – will continue to pay the price.

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Iowa Supremes Say PR Tour Generating “Immeasurable” Benefits

July 29th, 2014

The party line by Justice at Stake and other liberal groups has always been that judges can’t sully themselves by discussing with ordinary voters the workings of the courts and the way they approach their jobs for fear of compromising their sacred judicial independence.  Oh well, never mind.

It seems that an ongoing PR tour by Iowa’s Supreme Court is producing “immeasurable” benefits, according to Chief Justice Mark Cady.  At a Justice at Stake event, Cady “described his court’s efforts to teach Iowans about its work and its role protecting people’s constitutional rights,” including 100 appearances at high schools, colleges and universities, along with field hearings by court members in 13 communities across the state.  It’s hard to imagine a hardened politician submitting to such an aggressive schedule on the hustings.

Of course, such extreme steps were necessary in Iowa because voters unceremoniously dumped three Supreme Court justices a few years back, much to the chagrin of the gavel grabbers.  But who knows … if judicial independence can be preserved with so much judge-voter contact, Justice at Stake might finally consent to allowing citizens to actually play a meaningful role in picking the judges who serve them.

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O’Connor Uses U.S. Supreme Court to Push Her Political Views

July 22nd, 2014

The method a state uses to choose its judges and other public servants is an inherently political question that should be left to the people of the state.  So why is retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor using the good name of the nation’s highest court to push her personal political views on the subject of judicial selection?

Recently a report authored by O’Connor was released by O’Connor announcing the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan.  The Plan itself (surprise, surprise) is merely warmed over “merit” selection.  But O’Connor serves up this hash with a self-congratulatory letter on stationary from the “Supreme Court of the United States, Washington, DC.”

Now, O’Connor could have easily released her letter on plain stationary, her own personal stationary, or stationary from The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, which published the document.  What possible reason could O’Connor have for using official-looking Supreme Court stationary other than to give the impression that her personal political views over judicial selection enjoy the imprimatur of the highest court in the land?  With “merit” selection under attack in many states (Kansas, Tennessee, Florida), should O’Connor really be using the U.S. Supreme Court as cover to wade into a highly contentious issue?

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The Battle is on in Tennessee

July 22nd, 2014

Early voting has started in Tennessee, with voters set to decide on August 7 whether to retain three state Supreme Court justices.  A new ad by the Tennessee Forum, a group pushing for a more conservative court, has elicited the usual wailing about “bare knuckle” campaigning by Justice at Stake and other left-wing groups, but the data on ad spending hardly justifies the hysteria.  According to news reports, the Tennessee Forum has spent just over $119,000 on ads, compared to the more than $201,000 spent by groups supporting the justices.  Some crisis.

The real issue here is not campaign spending, but judicial accountability.  For years, selection to Tennessee’s highest court has been a clubby, insider’s game dominated by lawyers.  The result has been judges increasingly insulated from the people they serve, answering only to the legal special interests that helped them get on the bench.  No wonder more than 92 percent of Tennessee lawyers polled by the Tennessee Bar Association favor retaining their cronies in the upcoming election.

The decision over who serves on Tennessee’s courts rightly belongs to the people, not the lawyers’ guild.  The fight over replacing the three justices signals that voters are sick and tired of an unaccountable court serving only the interests of the state’s legal elite.

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