Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category

Editorial: N.J. Judges Need Shielding From Political Assaults

US-POLITICS-CEOEnsuring fair and impartial courts is a hot topic in New Jersey, even after Gov. Chris Christie defused the possibility of one crisis by reappointing state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (see Gavel Grab).

Unlike Justice Rabner, a (Newark) Star-Ledger editorial says, “More than 180 trial judges don’t have tenure and remain threatened,” and state judges are “understandably rattled” since Christie refused for the first time in state history to reappoint two other Supreme Court justices.

The editorial, entitled “Shield all NJ judges from political retribution,” endorses the idea of a constitutional amendment saying that only in instances of judicial incompetence can governors remove judges from the bench. Read more

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In Washington Post, JAS Board Members Decry ‘Bullying’ of Courts

JAS JUDGESJustice at Stake Board Members Ruth McGregor and Randall Shepard decried in a Washington Post op-ed  an “atmosphere of bullying” that is threatening fair and impartial courts. The authors are retired chief justices of state supreme courts in Arizona and Indiana, respectively.

The op-ed on Monday was entitled “Keep politics out of the courthouse.” It highlighted events in Oklahoma, where a legislative resolution to impeach five state Supreme Court justices preceded their voting to lift a stay of execution for convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. When his bungled execution followed, it sparked national debate.

“[W]e believe our treasured American system of checks and balances is harmed when our courts are threatened with intimidation. Our courts were designed to be the branch of government most insulated from politics,” wrote Justice McGregor and Justice Shepard. Read more

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JAS: ‘Brown’ Also Shows Importance of Independent Courts

Brown v Board 450 kbThe Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision sixty years ago is historic not only for its impact on civil rights and education but also for illustrating the importance of independent courts, Justice at Stake said in a statement on Friday, the eve of the anniversary.

“The federal judiciary is uniquely positioned to protect the rights of political minorities. It recognizes that the Constitution’s liberty and equality guarantees apply to everyone,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said. “Lifetime appointments for our federal judges allow federal courts to enforce the law even when it might not be popular or conflict with majority sentiment. Brown v. Board is an example of courage in action – the courage of plaintiffs, their civil rights lawyers and judges in order to arrive at a decision that honored principles central to our democracy.

“As we honor Brown v. Board, we have to pause to remember that challenges remain. Today, the struggle continues to integrate our nation’s schools and provide equal access to quality education.  Today, we continue to need to protect our courts’ ability to deliver democracy-protecting decisions, even when such decisions might be unpopular.  Calls to impeach judges and abolish lifetime tenure followed the Brown v. Board decision and such calls follow controversial decisions today.”

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Commentary: Death of Judicial Independence in Oklahoma?

A week of tumult involving Oklahoma’s two highest courts, its governor and the legislative branch saw high tensions among the branches, as Gavel Grab mentioned earlier. Now veteran legal journalist Andrew Cohen has gone further, offering an analysis that amidst the “chaos,” “[J]udicial independence died last week in Oklahoma.”

At The Week, Cohen’s commentary is entitled, “Oklahoma just neutered its state Supreme Court.” Cohen details how the state Supreme Court issued stays of execution for two convicted murderers, during a conflict with the Court of Criminal Appeals; how the governor declared that the Supreme Court exceeded its authority and the executive branch would not honor its order; how a legislator called for impeachment of five Supreme Court justices in the majority granting the stays; and how the Supreme Court ultimately lifted the stays.

In Cohen’s analysis, both the executive and legislative branches acted in ways that threatened the separation of powers, and the Supreme Court “tragically, caved in to the political pressure.” Judicial independence was killed, he writes, “by shortsighted members of the executive and legislative branches of government, and by gutless judges.”

 

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Opinion: ‘Intimidation’ Perception if N.J. Judge Not Reappointed

Chief Justice Rabner

Chief Justice Rabner

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie dumps, rather than reappoints and extends tenure to, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, then it “would give rise to the perception that Christie was attempting to intimidate judges working without tenure,” The Record columnist Charles Stile writes.

In a lengthy commentary, Stiles examines a myriad of political implications if Christie does, or does not, reappoint Rabner. The Republican governor’s path to a decision has drawn plenty of attention recently, with the New Jersey State Bar Association going so far as to say the independence of the judiciary rides on the governor’s decision (see Gavel Grab for background).

Suggests Stiles, if Justice Rabner is not reappointed, “Judges might feel unspoken pressure not to cross Christie by ruling against an administration policy, or even against one of his allies. Nearly 46 percent of the state’s judges are untenured, says Ralph Lamparello, president of the New Jersey Bar Association.”

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Editorial: Screening Panel Revamp a ‘Stark Naked Power Grab’

One of the strongest opinion pieces to date about a proposal to revamp the appointment of Oklahoma Judicial Nominating Commission members calls it an outright assault on impartial courts and a big step toward court-stacking.

Seal_of_Oklahoma.svgAssociate Editor Julie DelCour’s opinion in the Tulsa World is headlined, “Stark naked power grab: Legislature targets Third Branch.” It condemns the proposal (see Gavel Grab) to give state legislative leaders control over picking a majority of the screening commission members. DelCour writes:

  • “Hello, politicization of the courts; goodbye checks and balances. Stack that 15-member commission, and pretty soon you can stack the court.” Read more
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‘Don’t Change’ Successful Screening Panel in Oklahoma: Editorial

OklahomaThe current system for selecting members of Oklahoma’s Judicial Nominating Commission works to ensure an impartial judiciary, and a proposal advancing in the legislature to change it “doesn’t pass the smell test” and would “shift power over the judiciary into the hands of legislators,” warns a Muskogee Phoenix editorial.

Members of the state Bar now choose six attorney members on the screening commission. The legislation would change that to have the House Speaker choose three attorney members and the Senate president pro tem appoint three. As a result, the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tem would name 14 of the 15 commissioners.

“It is fishy that the move comes in the wake of several rulings that overturned laws as unconstitutional,” the editorial notes about the legislation. It also cautions that the measure “would create the potential for judgeships to become political patronage positions.”

“The system works to ensure an independent judiciary,” the editorial concludes. “Don’t change it.” For more about the controversy in Oklahoma, see Gavel Grab.

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Analyst: Proposal on Judicial Tenure in N.J. Isn’t Viable

nj_capitol_domeBy proposing a  constitutional amendment that would guarantee tenure for state judges unless they are found unfit for the bench, the New Jersey Bar Association is doing more to shine a light on issues of politics threatening judicial independence than it is pushing a viable amendment, a public policy analyst says.

“The odds that this constitutional rewrite would be approved are nonexistent. Governors and legislators view it as a diminution of their prerogatives and infringing on their responsibilities to represent the people who elected them,” writes Carl Golden, a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey, in a Star-Ledger opinion piece.

Gov. Chris Christie, who has vowed to reshape the state’s highest court, has broken with precedent to deny tenure to two veteran justices. He now is facing a decision whether to reappoint–and extend tenure to–Chief Justice Stuart Rabner. The Bar Association has urged him to reappoint the Chief Justice saying the issue is about “the independence of the judiciary.”

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On OK Judicial Nominations Panel, Editorial Says No Fix Needed

A proposal before the Oklahoma House to revise the membership of the Judicial Nominating Commission would add a political element “to what has been a neutral process,” a Norman (Ok.) Transcript editorial says in opposing the change.

“Efforts by the state’s legislative leadership to change the system would be damaging to the independent judiciary we now enjoy. We encourage lawmakers to redirect their energy to issues where a problem exists,” the editorial says.

Members of the state Bar now choose six attorney members on the screening commission. The legislation would change that to have the House Speaker choose three attorney members and the Senate president pro tem appoint three. As a result, the governor, House speaker, and Senate president pro tem would name 14 of the 15 commissioners.

For more about the controversy in Oklahoma, see Gavel Grab, and to learn more about how appointive systems for choosing qualified state judges work to reduce politics in our courts, see Justice at Stake’s web page about this issue. Appellate judges in Oklahoma are chosen through such a merit-based selection system.

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N.J. Bar: Guarantee Tenure for Judges, Unless They’re Unfit

Bar President Lamparello

Bar President Lamparello

It’s time to consider rewriting the New Jersey Constitution to guarantee tenure for state judges unless they are found unfit for the bench, the New Jersey State Bar Association says. Its plea follows Gov. Chris Christie’s refusal in recent years, breaking from tradition, to reappoint two state Supreme Court justices.

According to a Star-Ledger article, the bar group wants legislators to weigh putting a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot in November.

“The amendment would formalize the original intent” of the state constitution, bar President Ralph Lamparello said. “To assure the independence of judges, the framers made clear that denial of reappointment was only for those found to be unfit.” Read more

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