Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category

Online Ad Urges ‘Yes’ Vote on Changing TN Judicial Selection

Image from online ad

Image from online ad

A new online ad was rolled out by supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee. It is narrated by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, a Republican.

The ad says the constitutional amendment would “prevent outsiders from buying our courts” and “protect our vote” on whether appellate judges get another term. It spotlights support for the proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. It comes as debate over the proposal is heating up.

The Nashville Post reported that state Sen. Mark Norris, the Republican majority leader, said attacks on three Tennessee Supreme Court justices in advance of last month’s retention election could hurt prospects for the amendment when voters go to the polls. In The Tennessean, an op-ed by George Scoville asked, “Would the Founding Fathers Support Amendment 2?” Read more

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Brandenburg Gives Keynote Talk: ‘Judges in a Fish Bowl’

When courts are facing all too frequent attacks, it’s time for those who care to stand up and help educate the public about why fair courts matter for everyone, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said on Wednesday.

jas_logo“The simple fact is that our courts and judges face a rising common culture of attacks on the independence and legitimacy of our judiciary,” Brandenburg said in a keynote address in Boston to the annual meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, whose members enforce legal ethics rules. It was held during the American Bar Association annual meeting. His speech was entitled, “Judges in a Fish Bowl.”

From a “[c]ash has become king” trend in spending on bitterly contested judicial elections, to court-bashing by legislators and executive branch officials and others, Brandenburg warned, “I believe that we are seeing elements of a permanent national campaign against independent courts.”

“But if courts want to remain independent of political pressure, they must have public confidence,” he said. “And in a culture whose norms are becoming more demanding of transparency, and less forgiving Read more

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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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