Gavel Grab

Brownback Names Former Counsel to Kansas Supreme Court

Judge Stegall

Judge Stegall

Gov. Sam Brownback made his first appointment to the Kansas Supreme Court on Friday, choosing Court of Appeals Judge Caleb Stegall, who had served as Brownback’s chief counsel before becoming a judge in January.

Brownback made his selection in choosing among three finalists recommended by a nominating commission. He previously had said that Judge Stegall had no inside track for the job. Judge Stegall’s elevation also means the governor will have a vacancy to fill on the Court of Appeals.

The other two finalists were Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger, who sat on that court since 2011, and Judge Merlin Wheeler, chief judge of the 5th Judicial District of Lyon and Chase counties, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.  Read more

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Commission Advances Court Nomination of Stanford Law Professor

Cuéllar

Cuéllar

Gov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court was confirmed unanimously on Thursday by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments. The nomination next will appear before voters on the ballot in November.

Cuéllar received a rating of exceptionally well qualified from a state bar evaluating commission, according to a Los Angeles Times article. When the nomination first was announced, it sparked attention for the statement it made about diversity on the bench (see Gavel Grab).

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Appointment to Kansas Court of Former Aide Sparks Criticism

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s pick of former chief counsel Caleb Stegall for a state Supreme Court opening (see Gavel Grab) met with criticism in some quarters. Judge Stegall has served on the Kansas Court of Appeals since January.

“By skipping over two highly qualified nominees and selecting someone with so little experience, Governor Brownback has once again shown that rewarding a political ally is far more important than doing what’s best for the people of Kansas,” said Senate Democratic Leader Anthony Hensley, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.

“Once again, Sam Brownback put his own political agenda before the best interests of Kansans,” said House Minority Leader  Paul Davis. “Instead of choosing a judge with more than 20 years on the bench, he chose his

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New Report Examines Judicial Nominating Commissions in U.S.

logo_squareThe Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its Quality Judges Initiative have released a new report on the judicial nominating commissions used to select supreme court justices in 30 states.

The report is entitled Choosing Judges: Judicial Nominating Commissions and the Selection of Supreme Court Justices. The report states in its conclusion: Read more

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Tennessee Judicial Selection Change on Ballot This Fall

This fall, Tennessee voters will consider a ballot item to change the way appellate judges are elected. It’s getting more attention now, and an attorney told a Memphis area audience that if it is defeated, contested judicial elections are likely ahead.

“If amendment two fails, we are headed one place – full out contested candidate filed elections for our appellate positions. … That’s not a threat, that’s a promise,” said attorney Lang Wiseman, according to the Memphis Daily News. A former Shelby County Republican chairman, Wiseman called the idea of contested judicial elections “disastrous.” Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Delaware’s Judicial Nominating Commission will begin holding interviews on Sept. 8 for applicants seeking to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Four candidates have lined up to compete for the post, according to WDDE.
  • In the context of an upcoming Montana Supreme Court election, Al Smith has an essay entitled “Justice at Risk,” on behalf of the Montana Trial Lawyers Association, posted at Montana Public Radio.
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Florida Bar Seeks High Court Decision on Election Rule

Canons of judicial conduct from two states that limit what judges can do in an election contest are under challenge, according to recent news reports.

The Florida Bar has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a rule barring candidates for a judgeship from personally soliciting campaign contributions, according to a National Law Journal article (available through Google). It is headlined, “Florida Bar Asks Justices to Rule on Judicial Campaigns.”

The article notes that the request to the Supreme Court comes as “judicial elections heat up around the country with record fundraising efforts,” and it cites Justice at Stake as the source of data that more than $263 million was raised in state supreme court elections dating from 2000 through the 2011-12 election cycle. Read more

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California Disclosure Bill Debated in Legislature’s Last Days

California’s Assembly is weighing a Senate-passed bill to require that political ads aired on TV for ballot measures disclose their three greatest original funders. A spate of editorials is calling attention to the proposal shortly before the legislature finishes its business for the year.

A San Jose Mercury News editorial was headlined, “Truth in campaign advertising should be the law,” and it said the bill’s powerful opponents include the Service Employees International Union and the California Teachers Association. The Los Angeles Daily News editorialized, “California campaign cash disclosure bill needs final push.” A San Francisco Chronicle editorial said, “Do-or-die time for campaign funding disclosure bill.”

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U.S. High Court Divided Between ‘Red and Blue’ Justices?

To what extent does partisan politics pervade the U.S. Supreme Court? This familiar topic got plenty of debate at the close of the court’s most recent term, and it’s still coming, this time with a law scholar’s contention that “America now has red and blue justices on its highest court.”

Professor Garrett Epps of the University of Baltimore School of Law has an Atlantic essay entitled, “The Extreme Partisanship of John Roberts’s Supreme Court.” He dissects rulings of the 2013 term and concludes,  ”On the Roberts Court, for the first time, the party identity of the justices seems to be the single most important determinant of their votes.”

You can read about other analyses by clicking here for Gavel Grab and clicking here. 

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Rear Admiral (Ret.) Barnett Joins Justice at Stake’s Board of Directors

Jaime Barnett joins JAS Board

Jamie Barnett joins JAS Board

Rear Admiral (Ret.) Jamie Barnett of Venable LLP, who has more than 30 years experience in the U.S. Navy and Navy Reserve, has joined the Justice at Stake Board of Directors, JAS announced Thursday.

Barnett is Co-Chair of Venable’s Telecommunications Group and a partner in the firm’s Cybersecurity Practice. For nearly 20 years, he has worked as an attorney in private practice.

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