Gavel Grab

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Commentary: Boost Alabama Economy by Adopting Merit Selection

Alabama’s legal system is overrun by politics, and it would  help boost the economy and job creation to reduce politics in the courtroom by replacing partisan judicial elections with merit selection of judges, an assistant economics professor says.

John A. Dove of Troy University in Troy, Alabama outlines his ideas in a new study and in a Montgomery Advertiser op-ed. He writes, “Replacing partisan election of judges with merit selection will promote a predictable, fair legal system. This less biased legal environment will have a tremendous impact on supporting business growth, progress and development, translating into jobs, opportunity and prosperity for more Alabamians.” Read more

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The New Yorker Looks at Alabama ‘Double Jeopardy’ and Cites JAS

alabamaIn the New Yorker, a lengthy article examines the case of Shonelle Jackson, convicted of committing capital murder at age 18 and condemned to death by an elected judge who overrode a jury’s vote for a life sentence. The article looks at judges’ tough-on-crime campaign statements and high spending in Alabama judicial elections and quotes spending data from a 10-year report co-authored by Justice at Stake.

The article by Paige Williams is headlined, “Double Jeopardy: In Alabama, a judge can override a jury that spares a murderer from the death penalty.” If Jackson’s death sentence is implemented, it states, “he will be the first person to be executed despite a jury’s unanimous vote for life.”

In January, JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg had an op-ed in USA Today urging judicial selection reform and citing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s dissent in a different death sentence by override case from Alabama (see Gavel Grab). “Her fear,” he wrote of Justice Sotomayor, “is that the Constitution’s guarantee of due process and a fair trial could be threatened by campaign pressure on judges who must stand for election.” Read more

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Senate Confirms Batch of Judges Before Taking Recess

Capitol_domeThe Senate confirmed a batch of federal district court nominees before it began a Thanksgiving recess, and news reports said several of them bring greater diversity to the bench.

Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Pepper will become the first woman to sit on the Eastern District of Wisconsin, according to Wisconsin Law Journal. Veteran federal prosecutor Brenda K. Sannes will become the second woman to serve as a U.S. district judge in Syracuse, N.Y., Syracuse.com reported. Both received unanimous votes.

On voice votes, the Senate confirmed U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo of Newark to the  district court in New Jersey and attorney Wendy Beetlestone to sit in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.  There was news coverage from NorthJersey.com and Philly.com. Read more

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Editorials: Weigh Appointive Systems for Picking Judges

Editorials are calling for consideration of changing the way judges are selected in one state where elections were held recently and another where a scandal has resulted in a new high court vacancy.

In Ohio, a Canton Repository editorial asked, “Is it time to change way judges are selected?” It also asserted, “Chief justice thinks so, but Ohioans need to be brought into the conversation.”

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor, remarking on a high number of uncontested judicial elections in the state this year, recently said Ohio ought to consider appointing judges rather than electing them (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Journalist: Roberts Deserves Impeachment More Than President

In a Nation commentary, journalist and author William Greider assails the conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and floats the idea of impeaching Chief Justice John Roberts Jr.

Justice at Stake has consistently cautioned against impeachment calls based on disagreement with specific rulings. JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg warned in a statement when there was talk in 2010 of impeaching Chief Justice Roberts: 

“Almost every American, liberal and conservative, has been angered by particular legal rulings, but that’s because we ask courts to settle tough legal disputes. It is reckless to threaten judges with ouster simply because we don’t like a particular decision.”

Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday declined to issue an emergency stay to delay marriages for same-sex couples in South Carolina, according to SCOTUSblog. The vote was 7-2.
  • U.S. District Judge Brian Morris of Montana has struck down that state’s ban on marriages for same-sex couples, Reuters reported. 
  • The Madison-St. Clair (Il.) Record reported, “Plaintiff lawyers seek court’s permission to read phone records of [Justice Lloyd] Karmeier and wife.” For background, see Gavel Grab.
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Senator Links ‘Amnesty,’ Possible Retaliation on Judicial Nominations

> on May 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.“If the president announces executive amnesty,” Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas declared in a Politico Magazine essay, “the new Senate majority leader who takes over in January should announce that the 114th Congress will not confirm a single nominee—executive or judicial—outside of vital national security positions, so long as the illegal amnesty persists.”

The warning shot by Cruz was fired shortly before President Barack Obama was scheduled to address the nation on TV on Thursday evening and announce an executive action on immigration. There was rancorous debate in advance of the announcement, the New York Times said.

On another front relating to filibustering judicial nominees, a Wall Street Journal opinion was headlined, “Republicans and the Filibuster: The Senate GOP shouldn’t create a double standard for nominees.” It is available through Google.

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JAS Partner Spotlights ‘Dark Money’ in MI Judicial Election

The Michigan Campaign Finance Network, a Justice at Stake partner organization, says unreported, unregulated “dark money” bankrolled the majority of costs for TV advertising in Michigan’s 2014 Supreme Court and attorney general campaigns.

iStock_000015670171Small1The Michigan Republican Party spent $4.2 million on ads about Supreme Court candidates “but reported no television advertising to the Michigan Bureau of Elections” due to a loophole in state law, MCFN said in a news release. It said the Center for Individual Freedom, a Virginia-based 501(c)(4) “social welfare” corporation, spent $468,000 for broadcast advertising supportive of the Republican nominees and the advertising was not reported to the Bureau of Elections.

“When such expenditures are not reported, the donors behind the spending are not reported either,” MCFN noted. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • With an influx of new judges taking the bench in Minnesota’s district courtrooms, Gov. Mark Dayton says Dayton says, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, that “he’s increased racial diversity among judges by 53 percent and the number of female judges by 18 percent.”
  • “When judges give the public a reason to doubt their impartiality, whether it’s through their acceptance of campaign funding or their intemperate comments, faith in the system erodes,” Alison Frankel writes in a Reuters blog discussing a federal judge’s decision not to recuse in a case before him.
  • As a result of Kansas Supreme Court action, “Same-sex marriage now allowed in most populous Kansas county,” Reuters reported. Meanwhile, NBCNews.com had a report stating, “Federal Appeals Court Denies South Carolina Bid to Block Gay Marriage.”
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New Mexico Appellate Judge is First Elected With Public Financing

VoteHanisee-posterJudge Miles Hanisee, who won election to the New Mexico Court of Appeals on Nov. 4, has a distinction: He is the first appellate judge elected with public financing since the state launched the program for statewide judicial candidates in 2008.

And for people concerned about money influencing politics, Thomas J. Cole wrote in an Albuquerque Journal column, this “was a patch of high ground in an election flooded with campaign cash from private interests.”

Both Hanisee and his opponent, Kerry Kiernan, obtained public financing under the program. Hanisee already was serving on the Court of Appeals because he was appointed to it by Gov. Susana Martinez. He earlier ran for election to the same court, accepting public financing for his campaign, and was defeated.

“It keeps lawyers’ money out of judicial races,” Hanisee said about public financing. “To me, that is the main thing you are trying to accomplish.”

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