Gavel Grab

NY Times Blog: Elected Judges to Get ‘Intimidating Message’?

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Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

In the New York Times, a member of the editorial board voices dismay over increasingly expensive, politicized state judicial elections. The essay says  Tennessee’s Supreme Court retention election Aug. 7 has big implications.

Dorothy J. Samuels’ commentary appears in the blog of the Times editorial page editor and is headlined, “If Judges Campaign Like Ordinary Politicians, Can We Have Impartial Courts?”

Taking note of a costly North Carolina Supreme Court primary in May and the current run-up to the Tennessee  election, which now is in the thick of an air war (see Gavel Grab), Samuels laments what is becoming all too common: “Another election season, another round of expensive state judicial elections destined to undermine the core American principle of fair and impartial courts.”

It’s evident since three Iowa Supreme Court justices were unseated in 2010 over a controversial marriage ruling that state judges who come under attack must fight back, she writes. “But no one should feel good about judges having to grovel for money and campaign like ordinary politicians.” Read more

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Article Names Efforts to Revise Judicial Selection, ‘Stack Courts’

Groups in some states are working to cement policy gains by taking stances on the way judges are selected, reports an online publication devoted to sexual and reproductive health and justice issues. The article quotes Justice at Stake about special interests’ seeking to influence judicial elections.

“Anti-Choice Groups Seek to Stack State Courts,” declares the RH Reality Check headline. It spotlights efforts to dump merit selection of Kansas Supreme Court justices and give the governor direct appointive authority; and against replacing elections with merit selection of judges in Pennsylvania and Minnesota.

“Special interest groups of many stripes have known for years now that judicial elections can provide an opening for political influence and spending that they believe will advance their agendas,” said Laurie Kinney, JAS director of communications and public education. Read more

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Columnist: Judges ‘Aren’t Robots or Partisan Hacks’

In the wake of conflicting rulings from two separate federal appeals courts this week on the Affordable Care Act, columnist Michael McGough of the Los Angeles Times scolds reporters who treat judges like “partisan politicians.”

“Federal judges aren’t robots or partisan hacks,” declares the headline for McGough’s essay, and the author says it’s a harmful practice for reporters to portray them in ways that could give such an adverse impression to readers.

Take judges who have ruled on marriage for same-sex couples, McGough points out.  One recent study says that of 15 rulings at the district court level favoring marriage for same-sex couples, six were delivered by Republican-appointed judges and eight by Democratic appointees.

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Senate Confirms Four Federal Court Judges

The Senate confirmed three federal district court judges on Wednesday.

Attorney John deGravelles was confirmed to serve as a judge for Louisiana’s Middle District, according to KATC; Palm Beach County (Florida) Circuit Judge Robin Rosenberg was confirmed for the Southern District of Florida, according to the Palm Beach Post; and Andre Birotte Jr., U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, was confirmed for the court in that district, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Earlier this week, the Senate confirmed District Judge Judge Julie Carnes of Georgia for the Eleventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. 

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Montana Supreme Court said former state solicitor general Lawrence VanDyke can be listed on the November ballot for a seat on the high court, according to KRTV News. He will face incumbent Justice Mike Wheat.
  • The ABA Journal reported, “Mixed verdict in Philly ticket-fix conspiracy case: 2 judges acquitted, 4 guilty on only one count.”
  • Days before the apparently botched execution on Wednesday of an Arizona prisoner, Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski called for using firing squads instead of lethal injection, according to the Los Angeles Times. 
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JAS: Will AFP ‘Transform Judicial Politics in the United States’?

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

The air wars have begun in earnest over Tennessee’s Aug. 7 Supreme Court election. Justice at Stake said the engagement of one outside group, Americans for Prosperity, has the potential to “transform judicial politics in the United States.”

Out-of-state groups spending to unseat three  Supreme Court justices now include the Koch brothers-linked AFP, the Republican State Leadership Committee (which distributed fliers) and the State Government Leadership Foundation, a RSLC partner group,  said JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice.

“The continued flood of money into judicial elections from all sides is already a threat to impartial justice.  But if AFP has decided to spend the kind of money in a judicial race that it has spent in other contests around the country, this could transform judicial politics in the United States,” noted Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement.  “More judges are feeling trapped in a system that is persuading many people that justice is for sale.”

“The ads in Tennessee are just the latest in a disturbing trend of outside groups attempting to influence who sits on our courts,” said Alicia Bannon, Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice. “People need to feel that Read more

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Dueling Health Care Rulings Are Not the Last Word

163751742-304xx2118-1415-0-0Dueling federal court opinions (see Gavel Grab)  over the legality of the government subsidizing health insurance premiums for millions of people again showed the ways in which court rulings can deeply affect Americans.

There was a deluge of news media articles about the rulings from two separate appeals courts panels, about the Obama administration’s decision to appeal one of them, and about how the federal Affordable Care Act may ultimately be affected. Links for many of the articles and commentaries can be found by visiting the How Appealing law blog.

The conflicting rulings also drew media attention to the politics of judicial nominations and the politics of the Senate’s confirming judges, including a change in Senate filibuster rules last year. After the rules change, Read more

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Scholar: Life Tenure Protects Judges Making Unpopular Decisions

It’s no accident that a judge who recently found California’s death penalty unconstitutional is a federal jurist protected by life tenure, a law scholar writes.

Erwin Chemerinsky, law school dean at University of California/Irvine, says in an Orange County Register op-ed that state judges who face the electorate after issuing controversial rulings sometimes are thrown out, but the framers of the U.S. Constitution believed it essential to have federal judges who would enforce the Constitution even when doing so is unpopular. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court lifted a lower-court stay and permitted the planned execution of a convicted killer from Arizona who maintains he has a right to details about the drugs to be used for his execution, according to the New York Times.
  • Justice Ronald E. Nehring of the Utah Supreme Court has announced that he will retire, according to the Salt Lake Tribune. The Judicial Nominating Commission will screen applicants and recommend finalists to the governor, whose appointment to succeed Justice Nehring will require state Senate confirmation.
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Governor Nominates Law Professor Cuéllar for CA High Court



Gov. Jerry Brown has nominated Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Stanford law professor and Mexican-born immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court.

Cuéllar has served under Presidents Obama and Clinton and has an undergraduate degree from Harvard College and advanced degrees from Yale Law School and Stanford, according to the Los Angeles Times. If confirmed, Cuéllar would be the only Latino serving on the state’s highest court, NBC News reported.

In commending Brown’s choice, the  National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) said, “It is vital that the state’s highest court reflect the full diversity of its residents.” Read more

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