Gavel Grab

KS Justices ‘Troubled’ After Brownback Signs Court Overhaul Plan

brownbackKansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed on Friday legislation opposed by members of the state Supreme Court that provides increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system.

“The Supreme Court of Kansas has strongly opposed this bill since its creation,” the court’s members said in a statement, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “We are troubled now that it has been signed by the governor. It weakens the centralized authority of the Kansas unified court system in exchange for money to pay our employees and keep courts open. And the money it provides still may fall short of even doing that.”

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Commentary Looks at History of ‘Blue-Slip’ Process in Senate

US_Capitol_Dome_-_AOC_-_public_domainU.S. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has vigorously defended a Senate tradition called the blue-slip process. Leahy requires consent from both senators in the state where a judicial nominee will sit before the committee agrees to hold a confirmation hearing.

The tradition has generated controversy in recent months as Republicans use it to block some judicial nominees, following a Senate rules change that barred the use of another delaying tactic — the filibuster — for blocking most judicial nominations. But how venerable, and how ironclad, is the tradition?

A lengthy Think Progress commentary by Ian Millhiser examines its history and asserts, “The first Senate Judiciary chair to implement a single-senator veto — and the only one until Leahy — was Senator James Eastland (D-MS),” a plantation owner who as chairman beginning in the 1950s enforced the process in a way that “permitted Southern senators to veto any judge they feared might be sympathetic to ending Jim Crow.” Millhiser goes on to suggest that if Republicans win the Senate in November, Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A (Portland) Oregonian article was headlined, “Gay marriage: Openly gay judge, Michael McShane, in spotlight overseeing Oregon case.”
  • Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Randy “Bubba” Pierce has written a new novel, “Magnolia Mud,” according to a blog.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia discussed their friendship,  National Security Agency surveillance and First Amendment freedoms at a National Press Club event in Washington, Politico reported.
  • When a Florida Supreme Court justice’s term expires on the day of the governor’s inauguration, the incoming governor should appoint the successor, a editorial said; Gavel Grab has background.
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Analyst: Proposal on Judicial Tenure in N.J. Isn’t Viable

nj_capitol_domeBy proposing a  constitutional amendment that would guarantee tenure for state judges unless they are found unfit for the bench, the New Jersey Bar Association is doing more to shine a light on issues of politics threatening judicial independence than it is pushing a viable amendment, a public policy analyst says.

“The odds that this constitutional rewrite would be approved are nonexistent. Governors and legislators view it as a diminution of their prerogatives and infringing on their responsibilities to represent the people who elected them,” writes Carl Golden, a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in a Star-Ledger opinion piece.

Gov. Chris Christie, who has vowed to reshape the state’s highest court, has broken with precedent to deny tenure to two veteran justices. He now is facing a decision whether to reappoint–and extend tenure to–Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. The Bar Association has urged him to reappoint the Chief Justice saying the issue is about “the independence of the judiciary.”

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Four N.M. Justices Step Aside From Hearing Pay-Raise Case

NMJudiciaryAll but one of the five justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court have recused themselves from hearing a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise.

The judge who did not recuse, Justice Richard Bosson, was named acting Chief Justice to preside over the case, and he will pick pro tem judges to hear it, according to an Albuquerque Journal article.

The lawsuit contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries. New Mexico’s trial judges are the lowest-paid in the nation. For background about the lawsuit, see Gavel Grab.



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On OK Judicial Nominations Panel, Editorial Says No Fix Needed

A proposal before the Oklahoma House to revise the membership of the Judicial Nominating Commission would add a political element “to what has been a neutral process,” a Norman (Ok.) Transcript editorial says in opposing the change.

“Efforts by the state’s legislative leadership to change the system would be damaging to the independent judiciary we now enjoy. We encourage lawmakers to redirect their energy to issues where a problem exists,” the editorial says.

Members of the state Bar now choose six attorney members on the screening commission. The legislation would change that to have the House Speaker choose three attorney members and the Senate president pro tem appoint three. As a result, the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tem would name 14 of the 15 commissioners.

For more about the controversy in Oklahoma, see Gavel Grab, and to learn more about how appointive systems for choosing qualified state judges work to reduce politics in our courts, see Justice at Stake’s web page about this issue. Appellate judges in Oklahoma are chosen through such a merit-based selection system.

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Editorial Urges Appointment of Wisconsin Supreme Court Justices

sealIn Wisconsin, site of an ongoing investigation of possible illegal coordination between outside groups and recall campaigns, the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker has asked the state Supreme Court to bypass lower courts and intervene in the investigation.

Now an editorial in the Beloit Daily News suggests a specter of a potential conflict of interest is raised by this latest development, because conservative justices on the high court “have received support totaling several million dollars from some of the groups apparently involved” in the “John Doe” investigation, as the probe is called.

Rather than hammer at the justices for them to recuse — which the editorial says is a decision for each of the jurists — it renews a call for a shift to the appointment of Supreme Court justices through a merit selection process, from the current election of these judges. It says the court should be an “honest referee”:

“No campaigns. No trolling for dollars. No questions about favors owed to donors. Read more

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Federal Judge Stays Order on Recognizing Out-of-State Marriages

U.S. District Judge Timothy Black has agreed to stay his recent order that Ohio officials must recognize as legal the marriages of same-sex couples that were performed out of state.

The stay did not apply, however, to four couples who brought the lawsuit that he ruled upon earlier this week, according to a Cleveland Plain Dealer article.

Gavel Grab has documented a recent increase in legislators’ calls to impeach judges who rule on the marriage issue, and Judge Black is one who has been targeted. Earlier in April, Ohio state legislator John Becker renewed demands that Judge Black be impeached (see Gavel Grab).

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McCutcheon’s Ramifications are Debated

The U.S. Supreme Court’s milestone recent ruling in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission is continuing to draw a deluge of analysis and commentary. The ruling struck down a $123,000 limit on aggregate individual donations to federal candidates and political parties in an election cycle.

The 5-4 court majority effectively jettisoned “the post-Watergate system of campaign finance regulation,” Linda Greenhouse wrote in a New York Times commentary, entitled “An Indecent Burial.” Norman Ornstein, focusing on the majority’s limited view of what constitutes political corruption, wrote a National Journal piece headlined, “Could America Become a Banana Republic?The Supreme Court’s recent McCutcheon ruling paves the way for a new era of political corruption in the U.S.”

“Can’t We Just Say the Roberts Court is Corrupt?” asked a Moyers & Company commentary. Tom Levenson had an opinion piece in The Atlantic, and Zephyr Teachout authored a commentary in Politico.

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JAS Criticizes Missouri Bill to Nullify U.S. Gun Laws

BULLETIN: “Surely state legislators have better things to do than pursue fruitless efforts to punish judges for enforcing the law of the land,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said on Thursday about a Missouri nullification bill. “Nullification has been rejected throughout American history as an attack on democracy and the rule of law.  Rather than usurping the Constitution, state lawmakers who want to change federal gun laws should do what every other citizen has to: write their member of Congress.”

A Missouri Senate committee has approved a House-passed bill that would nullify federal restrictions on gun ownership in Missouri.

Missouri-gun-bill-aims-to-nullify-US-gun-laws-in-the-stateThe bill approved by the Senate General Laws Committee deems void “federal statutes, executive orders, administrative orders, court orders, rules, regulations, or other actions which restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership, and use of firearms,” reported Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

The legislation specifically bars Missouri judges from giving legal recognition to laws or federal court orders restricting gun ownership in Missouri, saying, “It shall be the duty of the courts…of this state to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms within the borders of this state and to protect these rights from the infringements defined in section 1.322.” Read more

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