Duke Energy, a utility with a strong interest in decisions made by North Carolina courts, gave $175,000 in 2012 to a Washington, D.C.-based super PAC that ultimately had a significant spending role in the North Carolina Supreme Court election that year.
A report by the Institute for Southern Studies spotlighted the contribution by Duke Energy, which recently has attracted extensive news media coverage for its large coal ash spill in North Carolina. Duke Energy gave the money to the Republican State Leadership Committee; and the RSLC gave $1.1 million to the Justice for All super PAC, based in North Carolina, which in turn poured $1.5 million to benefit incumbent Justice Paul Newby in his contest with Judge Sam Ervin IV.
That North Carolina election saw soaring outside spending, and the new report says, “While it’s impossible to know if Duke Energy’s contributions to the RSLC were earmarked to support the D.C. group’s significant Read more
Tags: North Carolina
The Senate’s Democratic Leader called it a “court-packing” plan, an attorney speaking on behalf of the state Supreme Court opposed the measure, and the House Judiciary Committee chairman, a Republican, said he was “appalled” by the Supreme Court’s taking a stance.
The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. It has three lawyer members appointed by the Alaska State Bar Association, three non-attorney members appointed by the governor, and the Chief Justice as chair. The measure Read more
In the United States, where there is no right to legal counsel in civil disputes, a major “access to justice gap” affects women, minorities and immigrants disproportionately, according to a new report.
“In the United States, millions of people are forced to go it alone when they’re facing a crisis,” Risa Kaufman, acting co-director of the Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Clinic, told NPR. Advocates at the clinic prepared the report. “It’s a human rights crisis, and the United States is really losing ground with the rest of the world.”
Some states and cities are working to develop innovative programs, including one in New York to offer lawyers to immigrants who are facing deportation. Kaufman added, “We’re really recommending the U.S. government step up…that it support state level efforts to establish a right to counsel in certain civil cases, that the U.S. ease restrictions and increase funding for the Legal Services Corporation.”
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Rhode Island’s Judicial Nominating Commission discussed its own transparency, and also a state law that permits the governor to appoint judges from a list of recommended candidates dating back five years, according to The Providence Journal.
- Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, has an article headlined, “Minnesota: bill would require monthly checks to determine if judges are meeting 90-days-for-decision statute.”
More analysts are sounding alarms about the impact on criminal defendants’ access to justice after the Senate voted to block at least temporarily the nomination of Debo Adegbile, a respected civil rights lawyer, for the Justice Department’s top civil rights post (see Gavel Grab).
The nomination drew repeated criticism from senators because Adegbile had helped represent the convicted killer of a police officer. At The Root, Keli Goff warned of a chilling effect on defendants’ access to representation:
“[T]he message sent by Adegbile’s treatment is that if you represent someone controversial early in your career—even though the Constitution guarantees everyone the right to adequate representation—you may suffer professionally for it later. Read more
Incumbent Justice Jim Rice is seeking re-election and will face a challenge from attorney W. David Herbert. The challenger earlier ran for the U.S. House of Representatives from Wyoming as a Libertarian candidate. Justice Rice is a former Republican state representative.
Incumbent Justice Mike Wheat, also seeking re-election, will be challenged by Lawrence VanDyke, the Montana solicitor general. Justice Wheat is a former Democratic state senator. VanDyke was appointed to his current post by Attorney General Tim Fox, a Republican. Read more
A proposed constitutional amendment in Florida puts another court-packing scheme before the legislature. It would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective appointments of judges, and if passed would permit the next governor to choose a majority of the state Supreme Court, the Miami Herald reports.
If the measure were adopted, the next governor would be able to appoint not only the successor to a justice who retires in January 2017 but also successors to three justices who are scheduled to retire in January 2019, the newspaper said. There are seven justices on the court. The latter three make up the court’s liberal wing; the bill sponsor is a Republican.
The measure specifically allows the governor who is stepping down to make appointments to the bench for vacancies that occur on inauguration day, in order to clarify uncertainty in existing law as to whether such appointments are made by the arriving, or departing, governor.
There is “commotion” in the legal community about giving such Read more
Debra Erenberg, JAS state affairs director, will moderate the panel. Its members will include Vanderbilt Law School Professor Alistair Newbern as chair, and four attorneys involved in the state’s debate over judicial selection: Margaret Behm, Charles K. Grant, Tom Lawless and state Rep. Michael G. Stewart.
According to the Vanderbilt University News, the panel will be convened as part of a two day conference on “Justice at Risk: Research Opportunities and Policy Alternatives Regarding State Judicial Selection.” The conference will examine the role of money in judicial elections. Sponsors will be the American Constitution Society, the American Judicature Society and Vanderbilt Law School; AJS is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more
Washington’s Senate Rules Committee has deep-sixed a proposal to cut the size of the state Supreme Court through attrition from nine members to seven. The proposal was alternately seen as money-saving or court-bashing (see Gavel Grab).
The legislation was sent to the Senate Rules Committee’s “X” File last week, which effectively means it was killed, reported Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. Earlier, a separate Senate committee had sent the bill to the full Senate. Read more
In advance of a Kansas Supreme Court ruling on public education spending, some legislators had threatened to rein in the high court’s authority. But after the ruling on Friday (see Gavel Grab), discussion of that topic was significantly muted.
A Wichita Eagle article was headlined, “Kansas Supreme Court’s school finance ruling seen by many as win for both sides.” When the Republican governor, the attorney general and Republican legislative leaders held a press conference on Friday, “there was no mention of constitutional amendments to strip the court of any authority over school funding or change the way justices are selected,” the newspaper reported.
The high court found there were inequities in public school funding, and it asked a lower court to reexamine the matter and ensure that school funding was equitable in districts across the state. With its ruling, the high court effectively left enough “wiggle room” that advocates on both sides of the issue could claim a measure of victory, according to the newspaper. Read more