Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category
With his refusal in recent years to reappoint two veteran state Supreme Court justices, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has raised real concerns about whether he values judicial independence, or whether he’s simply set on overhauling the court, George Amick writes in a column for The Trenton Times.
This year, Christie faces a decision whether to reappoint Chief Justice Stuart Rabner for a new, and tenured, term. He has called Justice Rabner “activist” and “arrogant” when he disagreed with his opinion on affordable housing. And that, Amick suggests, “unwittingly certified Rabner’s great value to the public as a jurist who refuses to allow his judgment on court matters to be compromised by fear of the governor’s displeasure.”
If Christie forces Justice Rabner off the court, the bench would be harmed and also might face operating with three vacancies out of seven seats. The New Jersey State Bar has urged reappointment of Justice Rabner, saying it would be “an unprecedented intrusion of politics into the judiciary” to do otherwise. Amick agrees. “The governor should heed the advice,” he says. “If he doesn’t, everyone loses.”
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has made clear that he has differences of opinion with state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (see Gavel Grab). It is unclear, however, whether Christie will reappoint the Chief Justice, and the New Jersey State Bar Association strongly urged him on Thursday to do so.
“It would be an unprecedented intrusion of politics into the third co-equal branch, and continued evidence of attempts to undermine the independence of that branch,” the State Bar Association said in a resolution, “to decline the reappointment of the sitting chief justice, the person entrusted to lead the judicial branch of government, as no chief justice has been denied tenure under our current constitution.”
The New Jersey Supreme Court has been a battleground in a fight between Christie, a Republican, and Democrats who control the state Senate, the Associated Press said. The Chief Justice was appointed to the court by Gov. Jon Corzine, a Democrat.
When the initial seven-year term of New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (photo) expires this spring, “It would be an unprecedented intrusion of politics into the judicial branch” for Gov. Chris Christie to decline to reappoint him, N.J. State Bar Association president Ralph Lamparello states in a Star-Ledger op-ed.
Christie, a Republican, has made a point of saying he wants to change the face of the state Supreme Court, which he has roundly criticized (see Gavel Grab). Lamparello cautions that failure to reappoint Chief Justice Rabner and thereby give him tenure would amount to an attack on an independent judiciary:
“This is about recognizing and honoring the integrity of the judiciary. To decline the chief justice’s reappointment would strike a body blow to the concept of an independent judiciary, one where the residents of this state seek to resolve their differences in a fair and equitable manner. It would be a clear and blatant attempt to co-opt the judiciary by another branch that is supposed to be its equal, not its superior. Further, it would diminish the democracy envisioned by the Founding Fathers of this country and the framers of the 1947 New Jersey Constitution.”
Controversy continues over New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s efforts to shape a more conservative state Supreme Court, and this time a national group is evaluating Christie’s record.
A new report by the Center for American Progress finds the Republican governor’s efforts without parallel in state history. “Christie is engaged in an unprecedented effort to augment the governor’s influence over the fiercely independent New Jersey Supreme Court,” it says.
The CAP piece by Billy Corriher and Alex Brown portrays Christie’s efforts as an ultimate response to court rulings decades ago involving low-income residents’ rights to adequate housing and public education. You can read in Gavel Grab about Christie’s criticisms of the judiciary and about his nominations to the Supreme Court.
The legislative and executive branches in Kansas are both taking aim at the judiciary, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says, and that’s dangerous. “[I]t’s important that it not be allowed to boil over to the detriment of the state,” the editorial cautions.
Legislators and the governor have signaled tension with the judiciary over state court rulings on the funding of public schools and even with the selection method for picking judges. The editorial focuses especially on recent remarks by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in his annual state of the state address.
Brownback said it was the legislature’s job to fund schools (see Gavel Grab). He went on to add, apparently jabbing at the judiciary, “Too many decisions are made by unaccountable, opaque institutions.” The editorial offers the following rejoinder:
“So are the courts really ‘unaccountable’ and ‘opaque’? Judges in all of the state courts are accountable to Kansas voters who have the opportunity to either elect or decide whether to retain them at regular intervals. And the courts are hardly opaque. Most of their proceedings are public, and testimony and decisions are painstakingly documented.”
A bill introduced recently by Oklahoma House Speaker T.W. Shannon to create a Judicial Performance Evaluation Board “would eradicate Oklahoma’s separation of powers,” states an editorial in The Journal Record, published in Oklahoma City.
The nine members of the panel would be appointed by the Senate president pro tem, House Speaker and governor, and they could not be practicing attorneys or jurists. “That means nine people with no legal training rating the quality of legal decisions throughout the state,” the editorial says.
The editorial concludes, “House Bill 3380 would create a human resources department run by the Legislature to oversee the judiciary. Not only is it duplicitous of the smaller-government-is-better Shannon to create a new, unnecessary agency complete with support staff, it takes the philosophy of a constitutional democracy back more than 300 years.” Read more
Legislation sponsored by the Kansas Senate Judiciary Committee would set time limits for judges to render their decisions. An editorial in the Hays (Ks.) Daily News criticized the bill as apparently blurring the separation of powers among government’s branches and said, “Choosing to ignore the intentional walls for one purpose likely will open a floodgate of unintended consequences.”
The editorial called the measure “a bad idea” and made a pitch for adequate funding of state courts. “The judicial branch already has standards in place to ensure speedy trials and timely decisions,” the editorial said. “Rather than potentially unconstitutional meddling, legislators instead should properly fund the courts to ensure they remain open. That likely would have greater effect.”
Perhaps Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Jeff King, who is pushing the bill, was “emboldened” by the legislature’s action last year to dismantle merit selection in the naming of Court of Appeals judges, the editorial noted.
The Kansas legislation is similar to legislation filed in the New York Assembly, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The Center is a JAS partner organization.
There are major implications for state capitals, and fair courts, nationwide in an education lawsuit to be decided soon by the Kansas Supreme Court and in the legislature’s response, leaders of two national non-profit groups contend in a New York Times op-ed.
If the court tells legislators to carry out their constitutional duty and provide greater funding for K-12 education (see Gavel Grab for background), Kansas legislators have threatened to retaliate by amending the Kansas Constitution to eliminate a requirement for “suitable” education funding and to strip courts of their authority hear school finance cases, the authors say. They are David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center, and Wade Henderson, president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
Legislators also have pledged, in the event the amendment fails, to defy a court order that calls for increased funding — or to extract the money from higher education, the authors note. They authors foresee potentially damaging consequences: Read more
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has “turned up the heat” in his criticism of the state Supreme Court and also on what the state’s legal community calls judicial independence, according to the Asbury Park Press.
The Republican governor has made no secret of his desire to change the face of the state Supreme Court, and his latest comments were in keeping with the tone of other criticisms he has issued.
Christie said at a recent news conference that the justices are “not accountable to anyone.” He faulted them for “enormous mistakes in the educational system in this state and in the housing system in this state.”
The governor blasted the high court as “outrageous” and “out of control” after it directed that fixes be made to the Christie administration’s program for affordable housing. “I think the fact that a court thinks that it’s within their purview to order an executive branch operation to actually go through a rule-making procedure is outrageous. And it’s why the Supreme Court is so out of control,” Christie said. Read more
Looking ahead to 2014, a political column in the Newark Star Ledger suggests that Gov. Chris Christie’s single biggest decision in his second term will be whether to reappoint state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (photo).
On the one hand, writer Paul Mulshine notes, Christie vowed years ago to remake the state Supreme Court’s makeup, and giving Justice Rabner the boot would be consistent with that vow. On another hand, there have been rumors that perhaps Christie would reappoint Justice Rabner in a political deal to help him secure confirmation of two other high court justices.
“If that were to happen, Christie would be following in a Republican tradition that got the GOP into this mess. The prior three Republican governors either appointed or reappointed liberal activist chief justices,” Mulshine writes. Read more