On May 6, 2021, Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida signed Senate Bill 90 into law. While the Governor and his Republican colleagues in the Legislature heralded SB 90 for its election integrity and transparency measures, critics called foul, or rather “voter suppression.” SB 90 is Florida’s contribution to a flurry of state-led reforms sparked by the national discourse on the validity of the 2020 election. As a result of SB 90, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida now has a substantial election law docket. Petitioners assert a variety of claims (including ADA, Equal Protection, and Fifteenth Amendment claims), with claims regarding Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act featuring prominently.
By: Carrie Mattingly
In Kentucky, all state court judges are elected in nonpartisan elections. Kentucky’s Code of Judicial Conduct seeks to keep candidates on nonpartisan message. But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals recently struck down some judicial campaign restrictions on First Amendment grounds.
One sitting and two aspiring Kentucky judges brought suit to stop the enforcement of these judicial canons against them. Robert A. Winter, Jr. distributed campaign literature identifying himself as a “lifelong Republican,” and he received a letter stating that this literature may have violated the canon prohibiting campaigning “as a member of a political organization.” Judge Allison Jones asked voters to “re-elect” her, even though she was initially appointed to her seat, and pledged to provide stiff penalties for heroin dealers if elected. She also received a letter stating that her “re-elect” statement may have violated the canon prohibiting “false and misleading statements” and that her “stiff penalties” comment may have been an impermissible “commitment” inconsistent with the impartial performance of judicial duties. Finally, Judge Cameron J. Blau wished to give speeches supporting the Republican Party, to hold Republican fundraisers, to seek and receive Republican endorsements, and to donate to candidates and to the party, but he refrained in fear of sanctions.
By Chris Keslar:
States select their judges in a couple different ways, but in thirty-nine states most or all judges are elected. Supporters of competitive elections for judges say that it is “the most democratic way to make judges accountable to the public.” Ohio is one such state, through constitutional mandate, to hold elections for judges. But do we really want courts to be accountable to the public? Or is the integrity of the law and its effective application of greater concern for the judiciary, and if so, is it incompatible with the interest of public accountability. [Read more…] about Exercise of Democracy or Destruction of Impartiality: Election of Judges in Ohio
Oklahoma Judicial elections have long been afterthoughts. Oklahoma has a two tiered system for selecting judges. Voters elect local trial judges directly through a non-partisan Top Two primary. Every four years local trial judges must run for re-election. Statewide appellate judges are nominated through a nonpartisan judicial nominating commission. The commission is made up of fifteen members, six lawyers and nine non lawyers. The commission sends a list of candidates to the governor, who then appoints those individuals she thinks best to serve. Appellate judges, whether recently appointed or not, then face voters on a nonpartisan retention ballot every four years. Voters have two options: they can either keep the judge; or remove the judge, causing the nominating process to begin anew to fill the vacancy. Prior to this system judges ran in partisan races and were forced to commit a great deal of time to campaigning and raising funds. Since the retention system has been in place in Oklahoma, no judge has ever been removed through a vote of the people. [Read more…] about Politics and courts in Oklahoma: Recipe for Accountability? Or Corruption?
New Mexico Supreme Court Says Judicial Candidate was Properly Disqualified from Election and Fined for Violations of Public Campaign Financing Law
On April 12, 2012, the New Mexico Supreme Court found that candidate for a seat on the New Mexico Court of Appeals was properly disqualified from the election and fined. The case, Montoya v. Herrera concerned Dennis Montoya’s 2010 bid for a seat on the state appeals court. Judge Linda Vanzi was running to confirm the seat to which the governor had appointed her three years earlier and continue her job with the approval of voters. Montoya ran against her, and applied for public funding under the New Mexico Voter Action Act.
Then-secretary of state, Mary Herrera, “informed Appellant by letter that he was not qualified to receive public funding because he had violated the Act’s contribution limits and reporting requirements.” After a hearing, the action was upheld because Montoya was found to have exceeded the seed money limits of the New Mexico Voter Action Act and failed to comply with the secretary’s reporting requirements. Herrera imposed a $2,000 fine on Montoya for his violations.
Montoya appealed the disqualification and fine, which went straight to the highest court because he was running for a seat on the intermediate appellate court. The state supreme court considered whether he had violated the seed money regulations of the act, which impose a $5,000 limit on a candidate’s contributions to his own campaign. Montoya contributed over $8,000 to his own campaign, but argued they were for general expenses rather than seed money. The state high court rejected that argument, saying there is no such distinction in the wording of the law.
The New Mexico Supreme Court explained that, “when [Montoya] contributed more than $8,000 of his own money to the campaign, while simultaneously applying for public funds, he violated the Act. Under the law, the Secretary had no choice but to disqualify him from public financing, and she did so.” It also dismissed Montoya’s First-Amendment claim because he choose to apply for public financing, when self-financing campaigns is allowed. This is a somewhat surprising outcome, as First Amendment claims have done well elsewhere.
The court upheld the fine as well, because the secretary of state was required by law to impose a civil penalty on anyone who violates the Act, regardless of his or her intent or knowledge of the violation.
New Mexico Supreme Court opinion
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