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Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category

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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Will N.J. Gov. Christie Reappoint Chief Justice Rabner?

Experts say the integrity of New Jersey’s courts could be at stake when Gov. Chris Christie decides whether to reappoint Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, whose seven-year term expires in June.

A Philadelphia Inquirer article recaps the controversy surrounding Christie’s upcoming decision, one that has drawn a lot of attention since the governor broke with tradition and declined earlier to reappoint two other veteran state Supreme Court justices. Christie has vowed to re-shape the court more to his philosophical preferences.

The New Jersey Bar Association has formally urged Christie to reappoint Chief Justice Rabner, whom Bar Association President Ralph Lamparello says has “served with distinction.” The judge’s future on the bench “shouldn’t be undecided. … It’s about the independence of the judiciary,” Lamparello says.

When Christie criticized this month a public school funding formula ruling issued  by the court, the governor also said, regarding efforts to change the court’s makeup, “We have another opportunity coming up in June, where I have to decide whether or not to reappoint the chief justice.”

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Legacy of Former Florida Governor: Protect the Courts

The Florida legislature should work to protect the courts if it wants to honor former Gov. Reubin O’D. Askew, who died yesterday.

That’s the argument made by Martin Dyckman in a ContextForida.com article. Askew cared deeply about keeping courts fair and impartial, was responsible for creating a nominating system that limited the governor’s power.

That changed in 2001 when the legislature empowered the governors to appoint all nine members of each commission. Four must be lawyers recommended by the Bar, but the governor can reject the lists until he gets names he likes.

A proposed constitutional amendment by state Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, specifies a governor’s power to fill prospective vacancies on the Supreme Court and district courts of appeal — even if the governor’s term is ending along with that of a departing judge.

Dyckman said that Lee’s amendment ought to provide that, “Whoever makes the appointments, an independent nominating commission should guide them.”

Lee told Dyckman he would be “happy to look at it.”

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‘Everyone Loses’ if N.J. Chief Justice is Not Reappointed: Column

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.”

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New Jersey Bar Endorses Reappointment of Chief Justice

Chief Justice Rabner

Chief Justice Rabner

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.

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Commentary: Reappoint Top NJ Judge, Preserve Impartial Courts

Stuart RabnerWhen 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.”

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CAP Report Examines Gov. Christie’s Work to Reshape Court

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.

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Editorial: Danger Looms When Governor, Legislators Target Judiciary

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.”

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