Justice at Stake is an advocacy group promoting restrictions on judicial selection for state courts. The organization supports indirect selection of state judges by panels stacked by state bar associations and opposes judicial elections and federal-style judicial appointment processes.
The organization is suspected to have a liberal bent, and it has received financial support from left-wing foundations including ones associated with billionaire financier George Soros. The group has opposed Supreme Court jurisprudence allowing more organizations to exercise election-related free speech, in alignment with the liberal agenda. Senior staff at Justice at Stake have liberal records, having worked for the Clinton administration, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Brennan Center for Justice, among other liberal groups.
JAS believes it is a counterweight to special interest groups who are, “spending millions to influence decisions and elect judges to serve their narrow interest.” Critics claim that the “merit selection” or “Missouri Plan” advocated by Justice at Stake empowers the trial bar and more progressive special interests.
The group focuses on judicial elections and the influence of money in races for court seats nationwide. JAS publishes periodic reports on campaign contributions to judicial candidates nationwide.
The group runs public relations activities on behalf of Justice at Stake’s agenda. Scott Greytak, senior policy counsel for JAS, used the popularity of “Making of a Murderer” to urge policymakers and the public to move away from a judicial system that elects judges.
The group also takes an active role in advocacy on ballot measures that increase democratic accountability in state court systems. Justice at Stake spent $27,000 backing a Nevada measure to replace nonpartisan election of judges with a panel selection process.
A Justice at Stake board member, Robert S. Peck, was lead counsel for liberal Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who unsuccessfully challenged a ballot measure that shifted the Chief Justice position from the longest-serving justice to the justice chosen by a majority of the Court. Abrahamson had been Chief Justice, but the Court voted to elevate conservative Justice Patience Roggensack after the ballot measure.
JAS reported just more than $1.7 million in revenue in 2014, and spent more than $2.65 million. The group reported more than $1.4 million in revenue for 2013, and spent more than $2.7 million that year.
Justice at Stake partially discloses its contributors. Since its inception in 2000, the following entities have donated to JAS, according to the organization:
- American Board of Trial Advocates
- Bauman Family Foundation
- The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
- Blum-Kovler Foundation
- Carnegie Corporation
- Columbia Foundation
- Google Foundation
- Herb Block Foundation
- HKH Foundation
- The Joyce Foundation
- JEHT Foundation
- John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
- The Moriah Fund
- Nonprofit Finance Fund
- Open Society Foundations
- Piper Fund
- Public Welfare Foundation
- Rockefeller Brothers Fund
- Vanguard Charitable Foundation
- The WhyNot Initiative
Justice at Stake receives some contributions from donor-advised funds, including the Fidelity Investments Charitable Gift Fund. Donor-advised funds can be used by contributors to mask their involvement in causes.
Attorney Susan Liss serves at the JAS executive director, a post she took in 2016. She boasts a long resume as a staffer to notable Democrats. She served as the director of federal-state relations for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, as chief of staff to Second Lady Tipper Gore, and as counsel to Vice President Al Gore. She also worked for progressive legal policy shop the Brennan Center. She reportedly boasts close ties to former Secretary of State John Kerry.
Prior to Liss, Liz Seaton acted as interim executive director, and Seaton remains a senior adviser to Justice at Stake. She previously worked for numerous LGBT rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign and liberal legal policy advocacy group American Constitution Society.
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serves as the group’s honorary chair. She had previously served as spokesperson on a progressive-backed campaign in Nevada for the merit selection program and was defended by Justice at Stake when opponents of the measure alleged her involvement violated judicial conduct guidelines.