JAS & The U.S. Supreme Court
Justice at Stake has been cited in three Supreme Court opinions: Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2009), FEC v. Wisconsin Right to Life (2007), and Republican Party v. White (2002). To view the citations, click here.
Justice at Stake has filed five “friend of the court” briefs in U.S. Supreme Court cases, working to protect elected courts from special-interest influence.
Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar (2015). The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in January 2015 in a First Amendment challenge to a Florida rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions, instead permitting candidates to create a committee to solicit contributions on their behalf. Justice at Stake and others argue that states have a duty to protect the integrity of their courts and that when judges personally solicit campaign funds, it creates the perception that they may favor a particular contributor in a future case or disfavor lawyers and litigants who choose not to contribute or are not solicited. Florida’s rule, the brief argues, is a reasonable and targeted response to the threat of judicial impartiality, and the U.S. Supreme Court should uphold it.
To learn more about Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, read a Justice at Stake statement about the case; the transcript of oral argument before the Supreme Court; briefs filed in the case and news articles and commentary about the case and about the larger issues raised concerning judicial elections.
- American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Bullock (2012). In June, 2012, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 to strike down a Montana law that banned indirect corporate expenditures on all state elections. The decision summarily reversed a Montana Supreme Court ruling. Justice at Stake had taken a stand in support of the Montana statute, warning in the amicus brief that if the century-old law is overturned, the state “may find its courts once again bought by corporate special interests.” JAS joined eight retired Montana Supreme Court justices in the filing, which sought to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold the Montana law.
- Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett (2011). The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional a key provision of Arizona's law for the public financing of campaigns. Under the provision, publicly funded candidates were permitted to get additional dollars, called matching or "trigger" funds, when privately financed candidates or independent groups exceeded specified spending totals. Justice at Stake called the ruling "disappointing, but not fatal for America's courts."
The case was widely known as McComish v. Bennett until it was consolidated with another case.
To learn more about Arizona Free Enterprise Club v. Bennett, read the JAS amicus brief, which was signed by 13 former state supreme court justices; or read a same-day news release about the ruling. You can also check out the Justice at Stake Arizona Free Enterprise Club in-depth issues page. To read the Supreme Court's opinion, click here.
Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010). The Supreme Court overturned long-standing precedents and laws dating back decades, declaring that corporations could not be barred from spending treasury money on election campaigns. Justice at Stake warned that the ruling "pours gasoline on the fire of special-interest money that has been overtaking judicial elections. Interest group spending imperils our right to impartial justice by pressuring judges to rule with one eye on big-money contributors."
To learn more about Citizens United, see the same-day news release and a later, more comprehensive news release; or read the JAS amicus brief, which was signed by 20 civic and legal reform groups. Or read this Justice at Stake fact sheet, or this commentary by JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg. To read the Supreme Court's opinion, click here.
Caperton v. Massey (2009). In this landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a West Virginia Supreme Court justice could not participate in a case involving a coal company whose CEO had spent $3 million to help elect him. The high court said the “probability of bias” violated an opposing litigant’s right to a fair, impartial hearing.
To learn more about Caperton, see Justice at Stake’s Caperton resource page, or read our amicus brief, which was signed by 27 legal and civic reform groups.
JUDICIAL RECUSAL STATEMENT: In November 2011, Justice at Stake issued a statement urging Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Clarence Thomas to strongly consider making public explanations of their reasons for not recusing in the federal health care law case before the court.
"This recommendation is offered carefully and with caution," Justice at Stake said. "There is a risk that recusal demands will be pursued for political reasons in high-profile cases. Many legal ethics experts do not believe that recusal is warranted for either Justice Kagan or Thomas. But given the importance of the health care case to the lives of many Americans, and the rare public education opportunities that such high-profile cases offer, we believe written explanations by Justices Kagan and Thomas offer the best available avenue for assuring the public that the Supreme Court will be fair and impartial—adhering to the law, the Constitution and relevant Supreme Court precedent."