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News Brief: Arkansas struggles with money in judicial elections

Alli Handler

The consequences of the Citizens United decision have been felt across the country and have been widely reported, including by this blog. Some states are focusing specifically on the effect of unlimited campaign money on judicial elections, with advocates arguing that though money is not is not a true substitute for speech in any type of election, the differences between money and traditional speech are more pronounced in the judicial field.

One example of such a tactic is the recent effort in Arkansas to distinguish judicial elections from other democratic mechanisms. The Arkansas Bar Association’s Task Force on Judicial Election Reform has developed ways to reform judicial elections and to curb the corrosive effect of money on an elected judiciary. Justice Robert Brown, the Chairman of the Task Force, has warned of the danger in failing to distinguish the unique nature of judicial elections: “If they’re not different, it will indeed undermine the dignity and the respect for the courts.”

In early March, 2012, the Task Force delivered three reform ideas during a panel discussion at the Clinton Presidential Library. First, Arkansas may develop a response committee dedicated to publicly identifying false statements made in judicial races. Second, they may create a voter guide with factual information about all the candidates. Third, a non-profit may be formed to encourage candidates to run fair campaigns and to disavow any false statements made by third parties.

Critics charge that holding judicial elections to different standards than other races is dangerous because it would provide a slippery slope that would lead to an unconstitutional reduction in free speech. Moreover, critics say, all political elections should be conducted with integrity, making electoral distinctions between the branches irrelevant.

The problem (or advantage) of unlimited money in judicial elections is an issue debated across the country and will be specifically addressed on March 29, 2012 and William & Mary Law School during the annual Election Law Symposium.

Alli Handler is a first-year law student at William & Mary.


News Brief: A Fox in the Henhouse

by Allison Handler

Though Ohio’s U.S. House district lines have been approved since September, it was not until February 17th that the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that those lines would remain in place for the 2012 elections. Much controversy has surrounded the lines, with claims from Democrats that the redistricting map was gerrymandered to favor the GOP. John Husted, Ohio Secretary of State, has called the state’s line-drawing system “partisan and dysfunctional.” Nevertheless, the Supreme Court based its ruling on timing; the Democrats “unreasonably delayed” the filing of their suit until 96 days after the districts had already been approved.

The redistricting scheme has famously left two veteran liberal incumbents running against each other: Marcy Kaptur and Dennis Kucinich. In addition to this high profile contest, the Ohio Campaign for Accountable Redistricting said the new map, developed last year when Republicans controlled four of the five seats of the Apportionment Board, reduces the number of competitive legislative districts and increases the number of safe Republican districts.

With primary elections only two weeks away, a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the Democrats would have required postponed elections. Logistically, the doubt cast over the redistricting lines has led to some insecurity among candidates regarding where exactly they should be campaigning. Such controversies will be put aside for the upcoming primary, but the Supreme Court has agreed to evaluate the district map again for future elections. The lawsuit charged that GOP line drawing violated Article 11 of the state constitution, which requires that the districts be compact and contiguous and that local units of government not be split unnecessarily. The map divides 51 counties, 108 townships, 55 cities and 41 wards for a total of 255 divisions, according to the lawsuit.

The experience has prompted several advocacy organizations, like the League of Women Voters of Ohio and Common Cause Ohio, to band together in coalition to improve the way Ohio draws its districts. Known as Voters First Ohio, the group aims to create, by ballot drive, the Ohio Independent Redistricting Commission. The Commission would be charged with drawing lines for the 2014 election. This plan is meant to assuage some of the damage done by the 2011 redistricting in time to affect elections prior to 2021, when the state will undergo redistricting again after the next census.

“The [2011] plan was secretly drawn, the public hearings were a sham and it’s very clear that the sole goal was to maximize partisan advantage,” said Ohio State University Moritz College of Law Professor Daniel Tokaji, one of the leaders of the coalition. “It was the exact opposite of a fair process — you’d be hard-pressed to find a place where the process or end product was uglier than Ohio.”

Allison Handler is a first-year law student at William & Mary.


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News Brief: Another California redistricting victim

by Brett Piersma

In September, this blog reported on the impact of a California initiative to create a citizen-panel to draw the new electoral districts. The commission’s efforts resulted in more competitive districts, with additional unintended consequences likely to follow such as more expensive campaigns relying on wealthy donors. On the other hand, more competitive districts are likely to draw more moderate candidates into the race, at least so goes the theory.

The Los Angeles Times reported in January that Elton Gallegly, the subject of our September piece, had chosen not to run for reelection. For some, this came as no surprise. A long-time representative earning reelection with big margins, Gallegly would certainly have carried his pre-redrawn district. But the commission’s actions placed Gallegly’s home in the same district as another popular Republican, Howard “Buck” McKeon. It does not require a top-dollar campaign advisor to calculate his chances of election in this new district, or in the new districts surrounding.

How his retirement will affect both California’s and the Republican Party’s clout in the House is uncertain, but not difficult to imagine. Gallegly not only chaired the Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement and vice-chaired the Committee on Foreign Affairs, but reported in January on his significant connections with pharmaceuticals, finance, and real estate corporations.

Gallegly joins a long string of representatives retiring at the end of this term, many of whom are stepping down at least in part due to redistricting in their states.

Brett Piersma is a third-year law student at William and Mary.



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News Brief: Texas Supreme Court rejects redistricting maps

by Allison Handler

The Supreme Court has rejected redistricting maps drawn by a Texas federal court. The judicially-created maps were created as a response to the Texas legislature’s failure to comply with Section 5 of the Voting rights Act. However, the Supreme Court decision throws the future of the redistricting map into question as the 2012 elections approach. According to reporting by the New York Times, the new map may not differ significantly from the one created by the Texas court, one which some say favors representation of Hispanic communities and the Democrats. The initial map proposed by the state legislature favored Republicans, but was never submitted to the Department of Justice for pre-clearance.

There may not be enough time before the election to prepare the maps appropriately. The Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott hopes to have interim maps in place by the end of January so that the state’s primary can take place on April 3rd. Abbott moved the federal court conference on the issue to January 27, ahead of schedule. The date of the primary has already been moved back from March 6th to the current April date, though it is not clear whether the state will be able to hold the election by April either. Continue reading

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