Archive for the 'Federal Courts' Category
U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. was among guests in attendance when Patricia Millett, a veteran appellate court litigator, was formally sworn in as a new judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
“We on the Supreme Court are losing a great advocate,” Chief Justice Roberts said, according to Legal Times. He administered Judge Millett’s oath of office, and Justice Elena Kagan also attended the event.
Judge Millett is one of three Obama appointees who were confirmed to the highly influential appeals court after a confirmation battle in the Senate. Democrats in the Senate forced a controversial rules change, eliminating filibusters of most judicial nominees, to pave the way for confirmation of Judge Millett and two others.
A soon-to-be published study by an academician finds that American Bar Association ratings of candidates for the federal bench appear, on average, to give lower ratings to women and minorities than to whites and males. The question is of more than academic interest because an individual’s rating can help shape whether he or she becomes a judge.
NPR reported on the findings of University of Rochester political scientist Maya Sen and also interviewed James Silkenat, ABA president. “If there was bias here, that would trouble me. I’m confident, though, there is not,” Silkenat said. The rating process is carefully designed to avoid bias, he added.
Some conservatives are speaking up not to bury judicial activism, but to praise the idea of it. And some others continue to deplore it. All on the same day.
Washington Post opinion writer Dana Milbank reports that some Republicans are “lamenting that judges are not being activist enough.” He quotes Rep. Robert W. Goodlatte of Virginia, House Judiciary Committee chairman, as saying at a hearing, “Unfortunately, the courts have been reluctant to exercise their constitutionally conferred power.” Goodlatte urged them to “check the president’s overreach.”
Also on Wednesday, Jonathan Saenz, president of Texas Values, said about a federal court ruling that voided a Texas ban on marriage for same-sex couples, “This ruling by an unelected federal judge is the most egregious form of judicial activism in our generation.” His statement was reported by KSDK radio. Said Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner and a former legislator, “I am disappointed that judicial activism is once again trying to trump the will of the people,” according to the Associated Press.
A public affairs professor at Boise State University in Idaho is questioning criticisms of judges recently made by an Idaho Supreme Court justice, Daniel T. Eismann, and separately by Gov. Butch Otter.
Justice Eismann (at right of two photos) “accused his fellow justices of ignoring the law and imposing their own preferences and prejudices in the outcome of a case” in a medical claims case dissent, David Adler wrote in an Idaho Statesman commentary.
“[I]t is rare,” Adler said, “to find a judge pulling back the curtain, and accusing his colleagues of engaging in rank partisanship. That’s because judges across America have assumed the responsibility of protecting the integrity of the courts.”
The governor (at left of two photos), according to Adler, dismissed U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill “as ‘someone who might not share Idaho values’ when it comes to appreciation of the market and freedom.” The remark “was so far from the mark as to be frivolous,” Adler wrote.
Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia has declared Virginia’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. She also issued a stay that blocks her ruling from taking effect until appeals are considered.
“Our Constitution declares that ‘all men’ are created equal,” the judge wrote, according to the New York Times. “Surely this means all of us.” The newspaper called her ruling “the strongest legal reversal yet of restrictive marriage amendments that exist throughout the South,” and said the case or one like it from another state could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.
When lawyers in private practice are appointed to represent indigent defendants in criminal proceeding, their full hourly rates will be restored effective March 1 as a result of a decision by the federal judiciary.
Last summer, the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States cut the rates for court-appointed panel attorneys by $15 an hour. The committee described the step as “necessary to avoid permanent damage to the federal defender program.”
This week, the committee adopted financial plans for fiscal 2014 based on a federal appropriations bill that includes a 5.1 percent ($316 million) increase in discretionary funding for the federal judiciary, according to a press release from the U.S. Courts. An Associated Press headline declared, “Rates Restored for Attorneys Defending the Poor.” The restored rates are $126 per hour and in death penalty cases, $180 per hour.
For fiscal 2014, the federal judiciary’s discretionary appropriations — totaling $6.516 billion — are roughly the same as the judiciary’s funding level in 2013, before across-the-board cuts known as “sequestration” were triggered.
When the temporary cuts were announced last summer, they caused concern (see Gavel Grab) because sequestration already had taken a toll on federal Public Defender offices nationwide. With those reductions, courts had turned more and more to private attorneys to represent indigent defendants.
A section of Kentucky’s marriage amendment violates the federal Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, Judge Heyburn wrote, by according treatment to lesbians and gays “differently in a way that demeans them,” the Louisville Courier-Journal reported.
Judge Heyburn was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. Given his ruling, Kentucky joins nine other states where bans on marriage for same-sex couples have received similar judgments from state or federal courts, the Associated Press said. The judge partially based his ruling on U.S. v. Windsor, a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that struck down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), denying federal benefits to gay or lesbian couples who are married. Read more
U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia of Texas was to hear arguments on Wednesday challenging the state’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Two couples challenging the ban are relying on the same legal argument that has led to court injunctions against similar bans in two other conservative states, Utah and Oklahoma.
The couples maintain a ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause, according to an Associated Press article.
Greg Abbott, the Texas attorney general and a Republican, was prepared to defend the state’s ban, which is contained in a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as between one man and one woman. In two other states, Nevada and Virginia, the attorneys general have chosen not to defend such a state ban.
United States Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has appointed two judges to secretive courts that deal with foreign intelligence surveillance, and each initially was named to the federal bench by a Democratic president. The actions generated some speculation that the Chief Justice was responding to criticism that the lower of the two courts is lopsided with Republican-appointed judges.
Appointed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was U.S. District Judge James Boasberg (photo at left of two), an appointee of President Obama’s. Named to the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review was Judge Richard Tallman of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (photo at right of two), a Clinton appointee and, according to Reuters, a Republican. Legislation has been introduced in the Senate to change the way FISC judges are chosen (see Gavel Grab).
Michael McGough wrote in the Los Angeles Times that examining the actual record of judges on intelligence surveillance issues undermines the theory of critics that “partisan court-packing” has occurred on this front. “So much for the idea that Republican-appointed judges are stooges of a sinister national security state while Democratic-appointed judges are stalwart supporters of privacy,” noted McGough, a member of the newspaper’s editorial board.
Justice at Stake was among several co-sponsors of an Alliance for Justice forum on judicial diversity, “Broadening the Bench,” featuring Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts. The program was held February 6 on Capitol Hill, and came as changes to Senate filibuster rules are being seen as a potential opportunity for President Obama to cast a wider net in choosing federal judicial nominees (see Gavel Grab). Panelists focused on a lesser-known aspect of judicial diversity, professional diversity, calling it an important factor along with gender and ethnic diversity in ensuring fair and impartial courts.
In her keynote address, Sen. Warren noted, “We face a federal bench that has a striking lack of diversity.” This bench, she said, has traditionally been dominated by judges who previously worked as corporate lawyers, and whose lack of exposure to the problems faced by lower-income or disadvantaged communities could hurt courts’ ability to be “neutral arbiters.” Arguing for the prevention of “corporate capture” of federal courts, she called on the President to nominate more judges with backgrounds as public defenders, as labor lawyers, or in public interest groups.
The event coincided with the release of a “Broadening the Bench: Professional Diversity and Judicial Nominations” report by the Alliance for Justice, compiling statistics on the professional diversity of the Obama administration’s federal judicial nominations. More information can be found on the AFJ website, here.