Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'JAS Partner News' Category

Judicial Recusal Bill Weighed in Montana Legislature

A bill under debate in the Montana legislature would require a judge to step aside from hearing a case if he or she received $35 in campaign donations from a party or lawyer involved in the case, according to Gavel to Gavel.

According to an Associated Press report, “A slate of judges, attorneys and a representative of the State Bar of Montana opposed the measure. They argued that widespread disqualification would ensue under HB 255 given the high number of attorneys that contribute to campaigns.”

Justice at Stake has called in general for more rigorous recusal rules, in order to protect fair and impartial courts when judges are elected. JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg wrote in a Chicago Tribune op-ed in September 2011: Read more

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Give Merit Selection a Try, Editorial Urges Pennsylvania Governor

New Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf ought to use merit selection to fill two interim vacancies on the state Supreme Court, a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial says in citing advocacy by a Justice at Stake partner organization:

“Lynn Marks of the reform group Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts sensibly suggests that the governor assemble a bipartisan nominating commission to produce a short list of potential nominees. Ideally, the commission would be rich in legal and judicial expertise. And as Marks noted, it should aim to select candidates based on integrity, intellect, experience, and temperament.

 “If well executed, such a process could suggest fine candidates for election to full terms on the high court and others. Moreover, it could serve as a model and motive for the legislature to replace judicial elections with an appointment process that would more consistently produce competent, impartial, ethical judges.”

Read more

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States’ Legislation Would Affect Courts in Varied Ways

Bills involving the impeachment of New Hampshire judges, judicial recall elections in three states, and ending merit selection in Indiana are among legislative proposals spotlighted recently by Gavel to Gavel, the blog of the National Center for State Courts.

To learn more about these bills, you can click on any of the following Gavel to Gavel posts:

Read more

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Riled Washington Legislators Strike at State’s High Court

washingtonstatecapitol2How many ways are there for Washington legislators to lash out at the Washington Supreme Court over its funding decisions about K-12 public education? Plenty, including “dis-inviting the Chief Justice from delivering a state of the judiciary address,” Gavel to Gavel reports.

Gavel Grab has mentioned recent proposals (click here) to shift from nonpartisan to partisan elections and to elect justices by geographic districts within the state. Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, says that along with the legislature’s dis-inviting the Chief Justice for the regular address, the latest proposals are all part of legislators’ falling out with the Supreme Court over its education rulings. Read more

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Plenty of Interest in Three Seats on Pennsylvania High Court

More than a dozen attorneys and judges interested in serving on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court are lining up for this year’s election to fill three seats on the court, a contest that could change its narrow 4-3 Republican majority, according to the Associated Press.

Lynn Marks, director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said the election will bring  “a sea change on the court,” amid efforts by both sitting and newly elected justices to restore its reputation after scandal has tarnished it. PMC is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Political party nominations will be decided May 19, and the general election will be held in November.


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Editorial Urges Diversity on U.S. District Court in Minnesota

Judge Davis

Judge Davis

Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael Davis of Minnesota has announced he will take senior status this summer. This week a Minneapolis Star-Tribune editorial joined those urging that diversity on the bench be considered when a judge is nominated to succeed Judge Davis, the only African-American jurist to have served on the court.

“Public trust in the judiciary is crucial to sustaining the rule of law in a democracy,” the editorial says. “That trust is enhanced when the law is upheld by judges who represent the entire population and who bring a wide range of backgrounds to bear on their analyses. Minnesota’s population has become substantially more racially diverse during Davis’ tenure. This state’s federal bench ought to reflect that change.”

The editorial points out that no women of color have served as a federal judge in Minnesota, and that there is a “chorus of pleas to fill [Davis’s] seat with a person of color — and particularly a woman of color.” Playing an active role, the editorial says, is The Infinity Project, a Justice at Stake partner organization. It advocates for greater diversity in the Eighth Circuit. Read more

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JAS Condemns ‘Brazen Political Attack’ on S.C. Judicial Independence


BULLETIN: “This is a brazen political attack on the independence of the judicial branch, of the ‘end run’ variety,” said Debra Erenberg, Justice at Stake Director of State Affairs. “Judges can’t do their jobs when legislators threaten their livelihood for ruling on properly-presented legal cases. The legislative branch needs to respect the unique role of courts in protecting everyone’s rights, regardless of whether it’s politically popular or expedient to do so.”  

A bill filed in the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee would automatically remove from the case any judges who recognize or uphold marriages for same-sex couples, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

“No state or local taxpayer funds or governmental salaries may be paid for an activity that includes the licensing or support of same-sex marriage,” the bill states. It also declares, “No state or local governmental employee officially shall recognize, grant, or enforce a same-sex marriage license.”

The bill goes on to say, “If a judicial officer violates this section, that judicial officer is disqualified from office pursuant to Section 19, Article V of the South Carolina Constitution, 1895.” According to Gavel to Gavel, that provision says, “The General Assembly shall specify the grounds for disqualification of Justices and judges to sit on certain cases. The General Assembly shall also provide for the temporary appointment of men learned in the law to sit as special Justices and judges when the necessity for such appointment shall arise.” Read more

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What is the Cost of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Scandal?

An American Law Journal feature on “The Cost of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Scandal and Judges Behaving Badly” includes interviews of guests including Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner group.

“The porn emails got the headlines,” says Marks, referring to the latest scandal (see Gavel Grab), “but that was just the tip of the iceberg.” PMC is advocating for a switch from judicial elections to merit selection of judges in Pennsylvania. A Legal Intelligencer article about the show is available through Google.

Thanks to the How Appealing blog, a YouTube video of the show is available for viewing by clicking here.

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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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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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