Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category
Are fair and impartial Oklahoma courts coming under attack? Some critics described a newly announced interim study on term limits for appellate judges as retaliation for rulings that legislators didn’t like.
House Speaker T.W. Shannon (photo), a Republican, said in announcing the study, according to the Tulsa World, “The forefathers created a system of checks and balances. We must make sure that system is not completely controlled by a powerful handful of activists.”
Only days earlier, the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidated a lawsuit reform law. The court ruled 7-2 the statute was unconstitutional because it violated what is called the state Constitution’s single-subject rule, the Insurance Journal reported.
“We have a great judiciary in the state of Oklahoma,” said Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, a Democrat, according to an Oklahoman article. “They’re not a state agency; they are a third branch of the government.” He added, “It seems to me this may be retaliation by the Legislature toward the judiciary.” Read more
Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor stressed themes of preserving judicial independence and impartiality when she addressed the annual Sovereignty Symposium in Oklahoma City this week.
Justice O’Connor recently became the First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake (see Gavel Grab).
In Oklahoma, she called upon the political community to embrace judicial independence, according to an Oklahoman article.
“Judges will maintain their independence and we will maintain our independent system if our political community understands that the measure of a great judge is not how often she agrees with you, but how fairly she approaches the findings and the issues before the judge,” Justice O’Connor said. “And that includes the male judges, too.”
She said judges must take steps to avoid even a perception of partisanship.
“We have a serious problem today because many people in our country think of judges as just politicians in robes,” she said. “They’re often called ‘judicial activists’ or ‘godless, secular humanists’ trying to tell the rest of us what to do.”
Is judicial independence threatened in New Jersey and elsewhere, or is there “hysteria” about the topic?
This issue is getting continued debate, especially after New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin recently delivered a strong speech about the importance of protecting impartial courts from political influence (see Gavel Grab). He called on the public to protect judges from the government’s other two branches. A few days later, Gov. Chris Christie berated Justice Albin, calling him a “grandstander.”
At issue in part is Republican Christie’s refusal in 2010 to reappoint Democratic appointee Justice John Wallace Jr. It was the first time a New Jersey governor did not reappoint a justice who had sought it since the state constitution was rewritten 63 years earlier, and it provoked charges that the governor was jeopardizing judicial independence.
Justice Albin said in his recent speech, “A judge should not be concerned about whether doing justice is a bad career move.” He also referred to voters’ removal in Iowa in 2010 of three state Supreme Court justices who had participated in a unanimous ruling that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples.
New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin delivered a strong speech about the importance of protecting impartial courts from political influence. He called on the public to protect judges from the government’s other two branches.
Addressing the annual conference of the New Jersey State Bar Association, Justice Albin appeared to address some controversies involving Gov. Chris Christie, although he did not actually name the governor.
“When one judge is punished for issuing an unpopular decision, other judges take notice and may be less inclined to invite controversy, perhaps at the expense of the fundamental rights of some disfavored group,” Justice Albin said, according to a (Newark) Star-Ledger article. “A judge should not be concerned about whether doing justice is a bad career move.”
In 2010, Christie, a Republican, refused to reappoint Democratic appointee Justice John Wallace Jr. (see Gavel Grab). It was the first time a New Jersey governor did not reappoint a justice who had sought it since the state constitution was rewritten 63 years earlier, Read more
After the staff of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a negative review of a federal judge’s record, the judge criticized a “below-the-belt” attack on judicial independence.
U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin is hearing a civil rights case challenging the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, which are alleged by plaintiffs to discriminate against Hispanics and blacks.
Bloomberg’s office compiled an internal report painting the judge as “as biased against law enforcement,” the New York Daily News reported recently. In 15 written “search-and-seizure” rulings since Judge Scheindlin took the judgeship in 1994, she made a decision against law enforcement 60 percent of the time, the review indicated.
In an Associated Press interview, the judge took issue with the conclusion.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will hear oral arguments next week in a case that will impact the state’s law on judicial age limits, but the justices should steer clear of this case at all costs, argues a Leigh Valley Express-Times editorial.
Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, state judges are required to retire from the bench when they reach the age of 70. Several lawyers and judges have sued to challenge the requirement, which has existed since 1969 (see Gavel Grab).
The editorial says that Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille will face mandatory retirement this year, and four other justices will reach age 70 within the next five years. Read more
A new bill being circulated by Wisconsin GOP lawmakers would effectively limit the ability of circuit court judges to block state laws, reports the Associated Press.
Rep. David Craig, one of the proposed bill’s chief sponsors, argues that it would speed up the appeals process by sending all challenges of state law to the highest court first.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, former state Supreme Court Justice Janine Geske says the bill is an “outrageous interference with the judicial process. (Judges are) the check and balance on the Legislature and the governor’s office that is critical to a democracy.”
“To statutorily undo a court order before another court has acted on it is clearly to me an infringement on a court’s independence, and I don’t think it will withstand constitutional scrutiny,” said Geske. Read more
The Massachusetts Commission on Judicial Conduct has dismissed a complaint accusing Boston Municipal Court Judge Raymond B. Dougan of bias in favor of defendants. The complaint was brought by Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.
The chair of the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “fair and impartial courts committee,” Thomas Hoopes, applauded the outcome, according to a Boston Globe article. “The Mass bar has had a strong and abiding concern that this process would affect the independence of judges here in Massachusetts. We view this as central to fair and impartial justice,” he said.
Conley accused the commission of failing to exercise transparency. “The judicial conduct commission offered no explanation for its decision,” he said. “The entire process took place in secret and out of public view.”
To learn background about the complaint, click here for Gavel Grab. In August, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rebuffed a bid to force Judge Dougan to turn over notes and other materials involved in his decision-making; to learn about that ruling, click here for Gavel Grab.
Members of the North Carolina legislature are responding to the charge levied by the state chapter of the NAACP and several other groups that North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby should not be allowed to stay on the lawsuit challenging political districts of favoring Republican politicians, reports the Associated Press.
Lawyers for GOP state House Speaker Tom Tillis, Senate leader Phil Berger and others looking to keep Newby on the case argue that the money given the Newby’s campaign by Republican committees and political action committees shouldn’t cast doubt on Newby’s fairness.
Thomas Farr and Phillip Strach, attorneys working with Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office to defend the districts, argue that the recusal standards urged by those calling for Newby’s removal are “unworkable.” If implemented, they would require “each member of the court to research whether every party or attorney who appears before them had ever expended money on his or her behalf during a previous campaign or contributed money to an independent expenditure committee that did.”
In the November election, Republican affiliated groups and super PACs spent $2.3 million on television ads supporting Newby and attacking his opponent, Appeals Court Judge Sam J. Ervin IV (see Gavel Grab).
According to the Associated Press, around $1.2 million of that came from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which gave “direct technical assistance to the North Carolina Republicans who drafted the legislative maps at issue.”
For more on the recusal issue, see Gavel Grab.
In South Carolina, the creation of nine new at-large judicial seats has led to the “largest and most contested judicial election in almost two decades,” reports The State.
South Carolina is one of two states where legislators elect the judges, who in turn “interpret the laws that lawmakers pass.” According to the article, critics are speaking out against the process, pushing instead for a system where the state Senate would confirm nominees put forth by the governor.
With the state poised to pass its first major ethics reform in over two decades, many are disappointed to see a lack of discussion regarding changing South Carolina’s judicial selection system. While South Carolina Bar President Angus Macaulay asserts that the state’s current system “avoids the harsh partisan politics found in other states,” others are not so sure.
“Legislators should not be choosing the judges who interpret the laws they pass. It flies in the face of the separation of powers,” said S.C. Policy Council Executive Director Ashley Landess. “I’m not saying the bench is corrupt. I’m saying the system itself is absolutely corruptible.” Read more