Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category

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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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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