Updates from the States

Soros Still Trying to Buy State Courts:   The Soros network of advocacy groups continues its campaign to persuade states to adopt the trial-lawyer-dominated Missouri Plan method of judicial selection. A coalition of Soros front groups — the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake Campaign, and the National Institute of Money in State Politics — recently published a report, “The New Politics of Judicial Elections: 2009-2010,” taking aim at judicial elections and making the fact-free assertion that those elections undermine judicial independence. As Chris Bonneau and others have explained, these claims are all countered by empirical evidence. Bonneau notes that in addition to there being “no evidence that elections cause voters to view judicial institutions as less legitimate,” there is also “no difference, other things being equal, in the quality of judges who emerge from elections as opposed to appointments.”

He also observes that “There is no systematic evidence to date that judges’ votes are influenced by campaign contributions,” which is further explained in his and Melinda Gann Hall’s 2007 study, “Does Money Buy Voters? Campaign Spending and Citizen Participation in State Supreme Court Elections.”  The bottom line is that Soros and his trial lawyer allies would like citizens in states like Michigan — home to one of the most impressive state supreme courts in the country — to give up their voice and put the power of state judicial appointment in the hands of a very few “experts” (read: trial lawyers).


Tennessee Considers Judicial-Selection Reform:   It looks as though legislators in Tennessee might abandon their state’s version of the Missouri Plan. According to the Memphis Daily News, Tennessee state senator Brian Kelsey has introduced legislation calling for a constitutional amendment that would implement something more analogous to the method of selection set forth in the U.S. Constitution for federal judges. Kudos to Senator Kelsey. I hope Governor Haslam and other legislators will look to him for leadership.


Pennsylvania House Considering Tort Reform:   The Pennsylvania House recently held a hearing on an important piece of tort-reform legislation aimed at solving the problem of “venue shopping.” As Bench Memos readers may know, Philadelphia has earned the American Tort Reform Association’s top ranking as a “Judicial Hellhole,” in part because of their encouragement of “litigation tourism.” Mark Behrens testified a few days ago that this new legislation would bring greater uniformity with respect to venue in personal-injury actions and address litigation tourism. Behrens explained that

When plaintiffs voluntarily give up natural home field advantage to flock to forums that have little or no logical connection to their claims, something is amiss.  That is the case in Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs’ attorneys often file suit in Philadelphia, even though their clients live in a different county, or even a different state, because Pennsylvania‘s venue rules generally allow plaintiffs to forum shop. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are drawn to Philadelphia courts because they perceive that their clients will receive favorable treatment in the way the laws are administered.

In addition to making the litigation environment inhospitable to businesses and job creation, Behrens notes that the “unfair treatment is fundamentally inconsistent with the American system of civil justice.” For the sake of the people of Pennsylvania, and everyone who does business in that state, I hope this is just the first step in a process that results in real reform.

Carrie Severino — Carrie Severino is chief counsel and policy director to the Judicial Crisis Network.

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