Gavel Grab

Conservative Tennessee Group: Keep Politics out of Courts

In advance of the Tennessee Supreme Court retention election Aug. 7, a conservative group has joined others urging that politics be kept out of the courthouse, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported.

TN-Supreme-Court-stock“Partisan politics should not enter into the court system,” said Lloyd Daugherty, chairman of the Tennessee Conservative Union. His group, which launched an effort against retaining another Supreme Court justice in 1996, voiced support for retaining Chief Justice Gary Wade, one of three justices seeking a new term on Aug. 7.

The three justices were appointed by a Democratic former governor. They are facing a Republican-led ouster effort from critics who have disagreed with their rulings and the court’s appointment of a Democrat to serve as state attorney general. Read more

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CA Court Nomination Makes ‘Statement to the Rest of the Nation’

CASupremeCourtGov. Jerry Brown’s nomination of Stanford law professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar, a Mexican immigrant to the United States, to the California Supreme Court is sparking attention for the statement it makes about diversity.

The nomination represents “a statement to the rest of the nation as we go through this backlash against immigrants,” said Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, according to a San Francisco Chronicle article. 

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg described the nomination as “a timely reminder that our Golden State was forged by disparate immigrant communities who pushed frontiers and who, together, recognized a common strength in diversity.” Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut became the fourth Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee to say he opposes the federal district court nomination of Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs, Huffington Post reported.
  • As more commentary followed the execution this week of an Arizona inmate who took almost two hours to die, some focused on the judiciary. “What happened Wednesday afternoon to Joseph Wood in Arizona was a state-sponsored, judicially sanctioned human experiment that went terribly wrong,” Andrew Cohen wrote for The Week. 
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Judge: U.S. Courthouse in Chicago Was on Brink of Halting Trials

Judge Castillo

Judge Castillo

Recalling the federal government’s shutdown over a budget impasse last year, U.S. District Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois said he had to draft a doomsday email about suspending all trials at Chicago’s downtown courthouse and find ways to boost sunken staff morale.

“If the shutdown hadn’t ended exactly when it did, we were out of money,” he told The Chicago Tribune in an interview about his first year in office. The draft email did not take effect.

Judge Castillo also discussed new initiatives that helped the district weather the crisis. They included new technology to help accelerate the pace of trials and competing with other districts to attract more attorneys to bring their large civil cases in Illinois. 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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NY Times Blog: Elected Judges to Get ‘Intimidating Message’?

Image From State Government Leadership Foundation Ad

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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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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