Archive for the 'Federal Courts' Category
A harmful, severe impact on the federal judiciary will result from a Senate rules change eliminating filibusters of most nominees for judgeships (see Gavel Grab), a prominent federal appeals court judge says.
J. Harvie Wilkinson III of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, who was among finalists considered by President George W. Bush for elevation to the U.S. Supreme Court, gives his opinion in a Washington Post op-ed entitled, “Bipartisan approval lends a sense of balance to the judiciary.”
Wilkinson writes that the rules change eliminated a balancing impact of the prior requirement for bipartisan support in order for a lower-court or appeals court judge to be confirmed: “Given that the ballot box is an imperfect guarantor of the bent or character of judicial appointments, any incentive to place jurists of moderate persuasion on the courts must come from the need to attract Senate support across the aisle. Last week, that need was much diminished.” Read more
Vacancies on the nation’s federal trial courts have surged from 65 in July to 75 now, or 11 percent of the courts’ authorized seats, according to a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice. It is a JAS partner group.
“Our trial courts are in trouble,” said Alicia Bannon, counsel at the Brennan Center, according to a Legal Newsline article. “As seats remain unfilled, millions of Americans who rely on district courts are being denied the justice they deserve. District courts can no longer wait.
“The President and the Senate must find a way to fill these crucial seats.” The report is available by clicking here.
An American Bar Association official has told Congress that a shortage of federal judges has adverse everyday consequences for people and businesses that use our courts, and that the shortage is exacerbated by across-the-board budget cuts called sequestration.
Thomas Susman, director of the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office, voiced the concerns in a letter last week. The letter was the topic of a Legal Newsline article headlined, “ABA: Too few judges, lack of funding hurting federal courts.” Susman wrote:
“When federal courts do not have sufficient judges to keep up with the workload, civil trial dockets take a back seat to criminal dockets due to the Speedy Trial Act. As a result, persistent judge shortages increase the length of time that civil litigants and businesses wait for their day in court, create pressures that ‘robotize’ justice, and increase case backlogs that will perpetuate delays for years to come. Read more
Some second thoughts voiced recently by federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner in a long-decided Voter ID case offer a reminder for all judges about the value of being aware of their own limitations, Sherrilyn Ifill writes in a National Law Journal essay.
Judge Posner, who sits on the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, wrote that he could not be certain the 2007 ruling was correct, “since I am one of the judges who doesn’t understand the electoral process sufficiently well to be able to gauge the consequences of decisions dealing with that process.”
Ifill (photo) is president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc. “The truth is that judges make mistakes, and the good ones possess the self-awareness and humility to admit their shortcomings and to change their minds on occasion,” she writes. She then asserts that while any attorney pressing a discrimination claim must be required to prove the case, it is important too for judges to acknowledge the limits of their own knowledge or experience. She concludes:
“After the death of Justice Thurgood Marshall, his colleague Justice Byron White described the contribution of the nation’s first black justice to the conference of the justices this way: ’Marshall told us what we didn’t know and what we didn’t want to hear.’ Posner’s admirably candid admission should serve as a reminder to judges that self-awareness about their own limitations is part of judging, too.”
From the Patricia Millet confirmation hearing to a House Judiciary Committee hearing on “Are More Judges Always the Answer?” many questions revolve around the D.C. Circuit Court. The problem is – are the questions the right ones?
According to a Brookings blog, a major question at the hearing was “whether Congress should enact Senator Charles Grassley’s bill (with 17 cosponsors, all Republican) to transfer two vacancies to other circuits and eliminate the third.”
The piece goes on to state that Grassley is right that Congress needs “smart ways to reallocate our judicial resources” but wrong about what those “smart ways” are.
“If Congress is serious about finding ways to reallocate appellate judgeships, it should ask the Judicial Conference, with the Center’s assistance, to try to develop an empirically based, conceptually grounded system for comparing appellate court workload that is more precise than the slightly adjusted raw filings now used as a guideline to inform the Conference’s assessment of appellate court judgeship needs.”
Since earlier this year, Texas has received a lot of attention over new abortion laws that have been working their way through the legislature and now courts. In a recent development, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans has reversed a decision made by a federal judge. The new ruling states that new admitting-privilege requirements should be in effect while the case continues to be argued.
At the beginning of last week the U.S. District Court in Austin declared the added requirements from more restrictive abortion laws to be unconstitutional because it is “without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” The appeals panel made the opposite conclusion. A piece in the New York Times states that the law was determined as serving a legitimate state interest in regulating doctors without imposing “undue burden” on the right to abortion, and therefore likely to be constitutional.
As many as 13 of the 36 clinics providing abortions in Texas will have to shut down services. Similar laws in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin have been blocked by courts temporarily. It is believed that a decision will ultimately be made by the Supreme Court, a continuation of a fight over how much say states may have in the restriction of abortion rights since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
The recently appointed federal court judge, Analisa Torres, has been appointed to the controversial court case David Floyd versus the City of New York. The case is widely known for involving the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy. While she may be new to the case the New York Daily News has reported on her previous critiques of the policy.
Shira Scheindlin was the judge presiding over the case up until being removed based on remarks she had made in 2007. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals stated that her comments went against the judicial code of conduct’s provisions for impartiality.
Torres was nominated to the bench by President Obama and passed a confirmation of the Senate this past April. In 2010 she was an acting Supreme Court Justice in Manhattan and overseeing a drug case involving a person that had been found in possession of cocaine. Torres barred the admission of the cocaine after it was revealed that stop and frisk policy had been used.
Accusations of “court packing” and calls to reduce the number of seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals highlight the intense and political divide the court faces.
The D.C. Circuit is widely regarded as the second most important federal appellate court. That’s one reason a Roll Call blog claims, “…that President Barack Obama is now trying to push three new judges onto the court and tilt it decisively in his favor.”
That argument is met with a simple response. “When President Barack Obama nominates judges to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, he isn’t packing the court – he’s doing his job,” the Houston Chronicle states.
Another argument surrounding the D.C. Circuit Court is the number of justices it requires to do its complex job. A Republican- sponsored bill seeks to eliminate three seats on the court, permanently reducing the number of judges from 11 to eight.
A Republican filibuster means the nomination of a judge who has received praise for her qualifications from both sides of the aisle will not come up for a vote.
Patricia Millett, President Obama’s nominee to the U.S. Appeals Court for the Washington, D.C., Circuit failed to clear a procedural hurdle after Republicans voted against bringing her nomination to a vote.
According to The Atlantic, “The Republicans in the Senate just filibustered the nomination of a highly-talented lawyer and hard-working woman of faith who is married to a member of our armed forces. In doing so, by defeating today’s cloture vote, they prevented this nominee from re-joining the federal government even though Millett received enough votes to pass a straight-majority vote for her post.”
A Washington Post blog post said Republicans opposed Millett’s nomination because they feared it would tip the balance of power on the D.C. Circuit court, which is generally thought to be the second most important court in the country, behind the Supreme Court. The GOP also argued that the circuit court’s small caseload didn’t require a swift confirmation.
The battle between Democrats and Republicans over judicial nominations heats up as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called Republican charges that President Obama is trying to ideologically stack the court “ridiculous.”
According to Politico.com, Reid plans to move forward on the nomination of Patricia Millett to the court this week. He believes there are enough members of the GOP to avoid a Republican filibuster.
Politico reports that Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is pushing a bill that would eliminate three seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and reallocate two of them to other circuit courts. The bill has 16 Republican co-sponsors after Sens. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Rob Portman of Ohio signed on this week.
Tuesday, Justice at Stake sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee concerning the hearing titled “Are More Judges Always the Answer?” The letter restates JAS’ opposition to the bill. In the letter, JAS responds to calls to eliminate seats on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“…we are concerned about a reduction of seats on a court that is widely regarded as the second most important federal appellate court. The D.C. Circuit, as you know, routinely considers cases that implicate some of the most technical issues of administrative and national security law.”