New Report Highlights Growing National Focus on State Supreme Courts

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 10, 2024 – State supreme courts have always played a huge role in determining our rights and freedoms, but in the wake of massive U.S. Supreme Court decisions sending issues like reproductive freedom and access to democracy back to states, their role is in the national spotlight more than ever. A new report from the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign highlights the increasing focus on state court elections and some of the major cases these courts are handling. 

State of Justice 2024: State Supreme Courts and the Future of Democracy” examines Wisconsin and Pennsylvania’s state supreme court elections in 2023, the first and second most expensive state court races in U.S. history. It also highlights several of the significant appointments and 30 notable major decisions that defined 2023 for state courts.  

The report also outlines the 2024 state supreme court elections, which include 82 races in 33 states, several of which could shift the balance of those state courts, and seven more expected vacancies in six other states. The report also previews 2025, in which there are expected to be elections for four seats in two states and four vacancies in three other states. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement: 

“For too long, state courts have not received the attention they deserve, even within the states they serve. As we saw in 2023’s elections, however, races for seats on these courts are becoming significant political battlegrounds as state courts tackle vital issues core to the future of our democracy. This new report, a hallmark of our state courts advocacy, speaks to the major role state courts are playing in shaping our lives and the role we must play in monitoring who sits on these courts and what actions they take. We hope reports like this make it easier for voters to learn about their own courts and how they can get involved in this year’s many races.” 

Click here to read the full report: State of Justice 2024: State Supreme Courts and the Future of Democracy. 

AFJ Action Celebrates Dan McCaffery’s Election to Pennsylvania Supreme Court

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 7, 2023 – Today Pennsylvania voters elected Judge Dan McCaffery as the commonwealth’s next Supreme Court justice. With the support of workers and reproductive freedom advocates, McCaffery is poised to help the court uphold the law by preserving access to abortion, gun safety measures, and the right of every Pennsylvanian to have their vote fairly counted. The Alliance for Justice Action Campaign contacted hundreds of thousands of voters in Pennsylvania to let them know what was at stake in this election and to encourage them to vote for McCaffery. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Rakim Brooks issued the following statement: 

“In the wake of challenges to the 2020 election and the Dobbs decision, our state courts are more important than ever. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard over a dozen cases attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Thankfully, they rejected them all. The election of Dan McCaffery will help ensure the court will continue to protect the liberties of all people, including their access to the polls and to abortion. With significant cases on these matters on the horizon, Pennsylvania voters ensured that they will be handled with the care and consideration their constitution demands.” 

New Polling: Overwhelming Support for Accountability and Code of Ethics for SCOTUS Justices

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., August 17, 2023 – New polling from the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, Stand Up America, and End Citizens United finds 78% of respondents want Congress to take action to impose a code of ethics and create greater accountability for the U.S. Supreme Court justices.

The polling results show Americans believe the Supreme Court should be the gold standard for judicial ethics, and the justices are falling far short of that standard, which is informed heavily by disapproval of the justices’ unethical behavior. Confidence in the Supreme Court has fallen dramatically, with only 40% of voters showing a great deal or fair amount of confidence — down from 53% in June of 2019.

Even before the latest ethics questions surrounding Justice Thomas, the poll found that 64% of voters, when informed of reports about Thomas’s behavior up to mid-July, think Thomas should resign, and 72% support Congress investigating Thomas’s ethical violations.

“When is enough enough? Voters are clearly fed up with the reckless and selfish behavior of Justice Thomas. We are even more fed up with his colleagues’ tolerance of his misconduct. It is time to hold the justices accountable and impose robust ethics reforms to prevent this behavior moving forward,” said Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Rakim H.D. Brooks. “The American people are giving us a clear mandate: Court ethics reform now. They deserve a Court that they can trust to uphold the rights of all people, but they clearly see one that instead favors the wealthy and powerful. If lawmakers are not prepared to take action now, the voters will surely elect new leaders who will. Democracy cannot survive where one of its branches is critically impaired.”

“The Supreme Court is mired in an ethical crisis, and these findings show that Americans expect Congress to step up and hold the Court accountable. The steep decline in public confidence in the Court––the result of recent corruption scandals and years of attacks on our fundamental rights––emphasizes the urgent need for action,” said Brett Edkins, Managing Director of Policy and Political Affairs at Stand Up America. “The American people are demanding a Supreme Court that upholds the highest ethical standards. Congress must heed their call and restore trust in our nation’s top court.”

“The corruption scandals plaguing the court reaffirm Americans’ concerns about the scales of justice being tilted. They know that justice is not truly blind, but instead, it’s a commodity that is simply bought and paid for by billionaires and shadowy dark money groups,” said End Citizens United Chief Program Officer Jody Murphy. “These results should serve as a wake-up call for Congress. The American people want more transparency from the Supreme Court and they want accountability when the justices run afoul of the law. Anything short of this will empower and embolden the corrupt justices.”

More than ever, concerns surrounding the Court, from its extreme rulings to extraordinary ethics violations, will likely drive progressive turnout in the 2024 election. When asked how important the Court will be when they vote, 56% of Democrats said it would be very important compared to 42% of Republicans.

Click here to read the full polling memo.

AFJ/AFJAC Launch Massive #ThomasResign Ad Campaign

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today Alliance for Justice and Alliance for Justice Action Campaign launched their largest-ever joint digital media ad buy to bring attention to the urgent need for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas to resign because he broke the law and abused his power. 

The $400,000 campaign consists of video ads and banners that will appear online in major national outlets, including The New York Times, Washington Post, CNN, Politico, Fox, and The Hill.

Alliance for Justice and Alliance for Justice Action Campaign President Rakim H.D. Brooks issued the following statement:  

“Justice Thomas must resign. This is not a call we make lightly. But the rule of law is more sacred and precious than any justice, political party, or partisan agenda. The moment Justice Thomas accepted undisclosed luxury paid vacations, unfair real estate deals, and free tuition for his relative from a billionaire with interests before the Court, he called into question his life’s work and the integrity of our high court. The Chief Justice is fond of saying that the justices are mere umpires, calling balls and strikes. Well now we know that at least one umpire has been taking kickbacks. No one should turn a blind eye to that level of corruption, particularly those sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. 

“Our democracy is at a tipping point. Faith in all of our institutions is collapsing rapidly because Americans reasonably believe that the system is bought and paid for. Justice Thomas’s conduct plainly accelerates that erosion. So, as we await more potentially life-changing decisions from this Court over the next month, we have no other choice than to make sure our voices are heard. If we are ever to regain trust in our highest court, we must enforce basic ethical norms.” 

AFJ Action Praises New York Court of Appeals Nominations

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 10, 2023 – Today New York Gov. Kathy Hochul announced two nominations to the New York State Court of Appeals. Associate Judge Rowan Wilson has been nominated for a promotion to Chief Judge, and Caitlin Halligan will then be nominated to succeed him as Associate Judge. These nominations followed the failed nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle, who the New York Senate rejected for his conservative record. 

Judge Wilson has an incredibly strong record of supporting equal rights for all and should be quickly confirmed. Ms. Halligan’s record as an attorney is mixed, though without the significant concerns that LaSalle’s nomination raised. She should be thoroughly vetted through the hearing process to scrutinize her record properly before confirming her. 

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“It’s encouraging to see New York’s highest court finally moving in the correct direction. This is an important opportunity for judges with a clear record of upholding equal justice to have a majority on the New York Court of Appeals. Certainly, Judge Wilson’s leadership will be a boon for the court. We look forward to learning more about Ms. Halligan’s record, but we are hopeful that it doesn’t contain the same pitfalls that required our opposition to Hector LaSalle.” 

AFJ Action Congratulates Janet Protasiewicz’s Historic Win in Wisconsin

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., April 4, 2023 – The Alliance for Justice Action Campaign offers its sincere congratulations to Janet Protasiewicz on winning today’s election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. With over $42 million spent, this race made history as the most expensive state supreme court race in American history. 

Protasiewicz’s win will put liberals back in control of the state’s highest court at a crucial time. It could soon be faced with questions related to abortion access, the state legislature’s heavily gerrymandered maps, and the integrity of the 2024 election. Having fair-minded justices like Protasiewicz will make a difference for protecting democracy, justice, and equal rights. 

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“AFJ Action was proud to support Janet Protasiewicz for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Her victory may end up being a saving grace for democracy in a state where Republican lawmakers have rigged legislative maps, undermined fair elections, and gutted the power of the elected governor. Let this election be a warning for just how determined conservatives are to steal power and impose minority rule. We held them off today, but we saw their true colors and we know they won’t stop in Wisconsin. Protasiewicz proved the will of the people can prevail, and we hope that she has the courage to protect the rights of the people in return.” 

AFJ Action Announces Inaugural State of the State Courts Report

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 31, 2023 – Today the Alliance for Justice Action Campaign issued its inaugural 2023 State of the State Supreme Courts report, an in-depth look at the current developments in state supreme courts across all 50 states. 

State courts hear the majority of court cases in the United States, with 95% of all lawsuits being filed in state courts. With the U.S. Supreme Court refusing to uphold important protections for abortion, voting rights, and other core democratic freedoms, state supreme courts are becoming an even more important buttress for justice. 

AFJ Action’s new report reviews all of 2022’s 30 state supreme court elections and the impact they had on the landscape of these courts. It also previews the important races happening this year in Wisconsin (next week) and Pennsylvania (in November) and in another 32 states in 2024. At least 76 seats across the country will hang in the balance as voters go to the polls, and it is essential that they are just as informed about these state courts races as they are about the presidential and congressional ones. 

To drive home the impact of state courts, the report also highlights recent notable state supreme court cases, some of which have been essential to protecting people’s freedoms and some of which have restricted those rights. 

The report builds on the State Courts Justice Project, launched by Alliance for Justice last year as a hub of information about the highest courts in all 50 states. 

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“It is more crucial than ever that people across the country understand how their state courts work and how their judges and justices are selected. Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, many states elect their jurists, handing voters direct control over the rule of law in their state. Dobbs was a wake-up call that we cannot take our rights and freedoms for granted. We all have a role to play in ensuring that our courts are committed to equal rights and justice for all. This report provides a first-of-its-kind look at the landscape of our state courts, and we hope it will be a useful tool in helping voters appreciate the importance of these courts and the role they play in them.” 

Click here to read the full 2023 State of the State Supreme Courts report. 

Read the full report.

AFJ Action Commits to Protecting Democracy in Wisconsin

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 27, 2023 – As the Wisconsin Supreme Court race enters its home stretch, Alliance for Justice Action Campaign is redoubling its commitment to preserving democracy in the state with an additional five-figure campaign on top of its ongoing efforts to get out the vote and support Janet Protasiewicz on April 4. 

The campaign will feature a video that highlights Protasiewicz’s commitment to equality and justice for all and the importance of flipping the Wisconsin Supreme Court to protect core democratic principles. In contrast, Dan Kelly is an extremist who openly opposes abortion access, who has compared affirmative action and social security to slavery, and who openly worked for the Republican Party to advise on election issues. For years, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have been gutting the power of the governor and undermining access to the polls, and Kelly cannot be allowed to rule on anti-democratic cases he may have literally helped devise the legal strategy for in the first place. 

Additionally, the campaign will include roughly $50,000 in voter outreach and education through text messages and banner ads, which will help voters understand that the election is happening, that it’s not too late to register to vote, why it is important to vote, and how to find their polling place or request and cast an absentee ballot.  

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“The stakes could not be higher in this Wisconsin Supreme Court race, which has already become the most expensive state supreme court race in American history. It is no exaggeration to say that democracy is literally on the line. For the past decade, Wisconsin has been a failed state thanks to the Republican Party gerrymandering the legislature to maintain control even when it has lacked majority support from voters. We cannot allow the Wisconsin Supreme Court to continue to prop up this non-representative power grab with more attacks on voting rights and representation that could impact federal representation as well. AFJ Action is committed to preserving democracy and fighting to seat progressive jurists ready to protect equality and justice for all.” 

Conservatives Admit to Directly Lobbying Judges to Get the Result They Want

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., February 10, 2023 – In the last week of January, the Washington Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case in which a group of wealthy conservative activists are challenging a capital gains tax passed by the Washington state legislature. In their attempts to defeat the tax, which is expected to bring in about $500 million that will fund early childhood education in the state, one group has admitted to openly attempting to lobby the justices on that court.

In the days leading up to the hearing, the Washington Policy Center (WPC) — a rightwing, Freedom Foundation-aligned think tank in Washington and an amicus filer in the case — informed donors that it planned to run ads directly targeting the justices and their staff at their offices and homes to sway their thinking against the tax. In addition to being an amicus filer, two parties named in the lawsuit also sit on the WPC board. This ad campaign, they admitted to donors, would involve using microtargeting techniques like geo-fencing to ensure the justices, their staff, and their influencers see their materials.

Jake Faleschini, Legal Director for State Courts at Alliance for Justice Action Campaign, issued the following statement:

“It’s astonishing to see conservative groups openly admit that they’re trying to win their cases outside of the courtroom. I’m young enough to remember when conservatives tried to convince the nation that judges just call balls and strikes while they decried rulings they didn’t like as ‘judicial activism.’ Now, conservatives don’t even pretend to care about winning cases on the merits.

“As we’ve learned from recent revelations about anti-abortion groups courting the U.S. Supreme Court, this is not an isolated incident. Conservatives have transformed our federal courts into political institutions and want to do the same with our state courts. This is why public faith in our courts is so low. People from all political backgrounds should come together to condemn these lobbying tactics. If the president and CEO of the Washington Policy Center, who is a member of the Washington State Bar Association, had a hand in these attempted ex parte communications with the justices, then he should be disbarred for ethics violations. The only way to restore trust in our justice system is to make sure the courtroom is a level playing field for all cases.”

AFJ Action Applauds Rejection of Hector LaSalle to New York’s Highest Court

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 18, 2023 – Today the New York State Senate Judiciary Committee voted to reject the nomination of Justice Hector LaSalle to the state’s highest court. LaSalle has a disturbingly conservative record, raising questions as to why Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated him and lobbied so persistently for his confirmation. 

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action’s Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“The senators did the right thing today in rejecting Hector LaSalle’s nomination to the New York Court of Appeals. His anti-worker, anti-abortion, and anti-criminal justice record proved disqualifying. Even during today’s hearing, LaSalle defended his past ruling allowing jurors to be removed from cases based on their skin color. New Yorkers deserve better than a judge with such a backwards perspective. They deserve a Court that is committed to protecting civil rights and upholding equal justice for all. We urge Gov. Hochul to choose a nominee worthy of such support.” 

New York Governor Must Abandon Conservative Pick For High Court

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., January 9, 2023 – In late December, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul nominated Hector LaSalle to be the new chief judge of the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. The opening is an opportunity to swing the Court from a 4–3 conservative majority to a 4–3 liberal majority, but LaSalle brings a conservative record that is anti-worker, anti-abortion, and anti-criminal justice. While LaSalle enjoys some support given that he would be New York’s first Latino chief judge, his conservative background has earned him significant opposition. 

New York’s Senate, which must confirm the nomination, is strongly controlled by a Democratic supermajority, enough of whom have now come out against LaSalle’s confirmation to prevent the appointment without Republican support. Sen. Brad Hoylman, who chairs the state Senate’s judiciary committee, has previously indicated he is unwilling to advance LaSalle’s nomination if it would require Republican votes. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign opposes LaSalle’s nomination and urges Gov. Hochul to select a new nominee. 

Jake Faleschini, AFJ Action’s Legal Director for State Courts, issued the following statement: 

“Enough is enough. At the federal level, we have learned how dangerous it is to let our courts run amok with conservative activists. Over the past year, we saw the U.S. Supreme Court issue not only the Dobbs ruling overturning Roe v. Wade but also the Bruen ruling gutting New York’s gun violence prevention measures. New York has a rare opportunity to reinvigorate its own highest court by ensuring that it is controlled by judges committed to civil rights and equal justice for all. Hector LaSalle is clearly the wrong pick for chief judge. Gov. Hochul should withdraw his nomination immediately and instead pick one of the three highly qualified women forwarded by her Judicial Screening Committee. It is time to end this needless charade and move on.” 

AFJ Action Applauds Appointment of Kyra Harris Bolden to Michigan Supreme Court

CONTACT
Zack Ford, Press Secretary
(202) 464-7370 / zack.ford@afjac.org
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C., November 22, 2022 – Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced today her intentions to appoint Rep. Kyra Harris Bolden to a vacancy on the Michigan Supreme Court. In September, Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack notified Whitmer of her plans to retire from the bench by the end of this year.  Bolden will fill that vacancy. She challenged Justice Brian Zahra, an incumbent conservative and Federalist Society member, in the 2022 election, and was the first runner-up. 

With McCormick stepping down, Whitmer is right to appoint Bolden to the new opening. Not only did Bolden demonstrate that she has popular support for the position, but she will bring important professional and demographic diversity to the Court. She brings professional diversity with her background as a criminal defense attorney and elected legislator and demographic diversity as the first African-American woman to ever serve on the Michigan Supreme Court. 

Alliance for Justice Action Campaign Legal Director for State Courts Jake Faleschini issued the following statement: 

“Governor Whitmer is making the perfect choice in appointing Rep. Bolden to the Michigan Supreme Court. Our state courts are more essential than ever as the U.S. Supreme Court demurs on key questions about our civil rights, our democracy, and our environment. Bolden has demonstrated an unflappable commitment to equal justice under the law and will be an exceptional public servant to the people of Michigan. We congratulate Bolden on her appointment and extend our appreciation to Whitmer for making this decision for Michigan’s Supreme Court. We look forward to helping Justice Bolden hold her position on the Court.” 

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