Archive for the '*JAS Partner Blogs' Category
Addressing the Philadelphia Bar Association, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called it a “serious problem that people in this country think of judges as politicians in robes,” Law360.com reported. She urged the lawyers’ group, which backs merit-based selection of judges, to continue pushing for reform.
There is an erosion of public trust in impartial courts when judges are seen as politicians, Justice O’Connor warned. She mentioned opinion polling showing that almost three in four Americans believe campaign contributions have an influence on judges, the Philadelphia Business Journal reported.
Pennsylvania has seen some of the nation’s most expensive judicial elections, Justice O’Connor noted.
Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, said about Justice O’Connor’s remarks:
“Judicial selection reform is not necessarily the most eye-catching or ‘sexy’ issue. However, vocal support from nationally respected figures like Justice O’Connor highlights the need for change. Campaign money, special interest group and political party endorsements, a familiar name, or good ballot position shouldn’t play such a big role in choosing jurists, who play such a critical role in society.” Read more
“It would be wrong to lock up judges for applying the rule of law, and legislation advancing in some states proposes to permit exactly that,” said JAS Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton in a statement.
“Even if you disagree strongly with federal gun restrictions, slapping handcuffs on judges who do their job is dangerous overreach. Those who oppose federal gun laws can lobby to change them before Congress. Undermining the judiciary is not the answer.”
A new bill proposed by Georgia lawmakers would establish a merit selection commission for interim appointments to appellate courts.
Under current law, the governor can name an interim judge to fill the vacancy as long as the person did not contribute to the governor’s campaign, says Gavel to Gavel.
With HB 30, the governor would choose from a list of candidates provided by a Judicial Nominating Commission. The commission would consist of 23 members, 18 of whom come from state minority bar associations.
Gavel to Gavel states that the commission could submit as many names to the governor as it wants but a minimum of three nominees is recommended. Gavel to Gavel is published by the National Center for State Courts, a JAS partner group.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Ohio Gov. John Kasich named state Court of Appeals Judge Judith L. French to a vacancy on the state Supreme Court created by the resignation of Justice Evelyn Lundberg Stratton. The court continues to have a 6-1 Republican majority, and a majority of four female jurists, according to a Toledo Blade article.
- Guaranteeing a minimum funding level for state courts will be the goal of legislation in the next round of South Carolina’s legislature, according to Gavel to Gavel blog, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The measure proposes that the courts be guaranteed one percent of general revenue funds.
The American Judges Association Blog quotes Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg extensively in a post written by Judge Kevin Burke, former AJA president, entitled “The Broken Confirmation Process.” The American Judges Association is a JAS partner group.
“Our courts should not be held hostage to partisan politics,” the blog quotes Brandenburg as saying. “This remains just as true for the lame-duck session as for any other time of the legislative year.”
“At its heart,” Brandenburg went on to say, “the judicial vacancy crisis is a justice crisis, and this much is clear—justice cannot wait until January.” Brandenburg pointed out that Justice at Stake has long held the view that judicial nominees are entitled to up-or-down confirmation votes, “absent extraordinary circumstances, regardless of who occupies the White House or which party controls the Senate.”
Judge Burke’s post also reports the findings of a Congressional Research Service study that in recent years, blocking judicial nominees has increased (see Gavel Grab for more about the report).
Last week a broad coalition of 23 national organizations, including Justice at Stake, urged Senate leaders to cooperate and hold confirmation votes on pending judicial nominees during the current lame-duck session (see Gavel Grab); JAS has issued a public statement urging action — quoted by AJA Blog — and written its own letter on the topic to Senate leaders.
Gavel Grab sends hearty congratulations to the Gavel to Gavel blog of the National Center for State Courts. It recently was named one of the ABA Journal Top 100 Blawgs (law blogs) of 2012.
Bill Raftery spearheads Gavel to Gavel, which is a staple among Gavel Grab’s own fair-courts news sources. The National Center for State Courts is a JAS partner group.
While at a campaign stop in Huntsville, Alabama, state Supreme Court Chief Justice candidate Bob Vance stressed that he’s focused on the issues before the court, while his opponent is getting distracted by side issues.
According to an Alabama Live article, Vance argued that he’s a better fit to address problems in Alabama’s court system than his Republican opponent, Roy Moore.
In Huntsville, Vance addressed the controversy around Moore and his actions while previously serving as chief justice. Moore became well-known in 2003 for refusing to follow a court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument from the state judicial building.
“Being willing to disobey a valid court order shows he’s willing to put himself above the law. On a personal level I respect Judge Moore, he sincerely loves his country, he served this country in the military – which I respect, and he’s a devout and religious man. But Alabama’s chief justice doesn’t need to get distracted by issues that don’t really address the real problems our courts face.” Read more
Once again, state legislators in New Hampshire have raised the specter of impeaching judges. A grievance committee voted 8-2 this week to investigate impeachment proceedings against three judges after a state Senate candidate complained about their handling of a custody dispute with his former wife, the Concord Monitor reported.
Bill Raftery of the National Center for State Courts, a JAS partner group, spotlighted the impeachment bid in the Gavel to Gavel blog that he writes. His post was headlined, “NH House committee advances plans to impeach judges for their decisions in domestic relations cases; 4th time in 5 years NH judges threatened with removal from office over custody or divorce case decisions.”
The latest action was taken by the House Redress of Grievances Committee, after receiving a petition from Republican candidate Joshua Youssef. The Concord Monitor article was entitled, “Senate candidate refights custody case in House.”
Last year in New Hampshire, a controversy over whether to impeach a family-law judicial officer was parlayed by legislators into a blank check to investigate all state trial judges.
“Almost every American, liberal and conservative, has been angered by particular legal rulings, but that’s because we ask courts to settle tough legal disputes. It is reckless to threaten judges with ouster simply because we don’t like a particular decision,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg cautioned in 2010, in a statement quoted by The Washington Post (see Gavel Grab).
For the first time since a public-funding program was adopted, all of the candidates running in statewide North Carolina judicial elections have sought and qualified for public financing of their campaigns.
That news comes from the blog of Democracy North Carolina, a Justice at Stake partner group. The group explains why it calls the development such good news:
“In the midst of Super PAC spending and candidates hustling big-dollar donors, here’s a positive story from North Carolina: Candidates are actually agreeing to accept strict campaign spending limits and to rely only on small donations and a public grant authorized by hundreds of registered voters!”
That all the candidates qualified for public funds was “made more significant” in light of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year “that no additional ‘rescue funds’ may be awarded if a qualifying candidate is later hit by large spending from an outside group or opposing candidate,” Democracy North Carolina said.
In a blog post for the American Judges Association, District Judge James F. Vano of Kansas writes on challenges facing the courts, and why they must be fully funded. Judge Vano says there is a “fundamental misunderstanding” of the courts’ constitutional and historical function that is turning them into simply another “revenue making agency.”
The Judicial Branch, he writes, is all about predictability and stability under law. The courts are bound to uphold the Constitution, and are not to be politicized by chants of ”judicial activism.”
“Courts interpret and apply the law, not merely for the benefit of the litigants, but for all of the community,” he explains. “That independent governmental function insures freedom and protection of rights. It lends predictability and stability to our society.”
Judge Vano says courts should not be funded through user fees, “beyond a nominal filing fee.” Instead, he writes that Judicial Branch funding should always be considered a general fund obligation. About revenue-raising, he asserts:
“Revenue-raising is taxation. Taxation is political. And, the political, revenue-raising Branch of government is and should remain the Legislature.”
Judge Vano concludes, “The plurality of American society needs a fully funded, free and independent judiciary in order for this constitutional republic to survive.”
The American Judges Association is a JAS partner group.