Ketanji Brown Jackson was a public defender. Where are public defenders on state supreme courts?
And corporate PACS are trying to rebrand as "Employee PACs" 😳
This week the Senate is holding hearings for Ketjani Brown Jackson’s nomination for the Supreme Court. If confirmed, Jackson would not only be the first Black woman to the court, she’d also be the first former public defender on the high court in more than three decades. (The last justice with public defender experience was Thurgood Marshall, also the nation’s first Black justice.)
Biden has made a point to nominate judges with public defense backgrounds, elevating a conversation about bringing not only racial diversity but “professional diversity” to the federal court system. Republicans, meanwhile, are taking the opportunity to suggest people who represent individuals charged with crime must be, themselves, soft-on-crime. It’s a ridiculous line of attack, but it also raises the question: if it’s important to tap judges with experience representing accused persons to the U.S. Supreme Court, what about state supreme courts, which hold the final word on the an immense number of criminal justice policy questions, shaping daily outcomes for millions of people? As of 2021, just seven percent of state justices were former public defenders, while more than a third are former prosecutors.
There’s been some effort to change this in blue states like New York and California, but with little success so far. I wrote about this dynamic for Bolts Magazine.
Corporate PACs have taken a beating in public opinion over the last few years. Since 2018, hundreds of Democratic candidates for Congress have sworn off contributions from these business PACs to signal a commitment to campaign finance reform, and after the January 6 attack on the U.S Capitol, corporate PACs came under great scrutiny for financial support they had given to Republican lawmakers who voted to overturn the 2020 election.
To help combat this, corporate PACs are seeking a marketing fix, now referring to themselves “employee PACs” – so that to swear them off would be silencing worker voices, or something. It’s silly, especially given who generally contributes to the vehicles and since corporations are usually quite explicit that the issues they lobby for are unrelated to the wishes of their staff. Facebook’s website literally says the “personal political preferences” of Facebook employees “do not influence” Facebook or MetaPAC’s political contributions.
Still, it’s picking up steam, including in some mainstream media coverage. And some candidates who swore of corporate PAC donations in 2018 are now saying they’ll accept them because they come from “employee-pooled groups.” I wrote about this in The Intercept.
Thanks for reading! Looking forward to sharing something else I’ve been working on next week.