Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Nominations' Category

Editorial Urges Governor to Embrace Judicial Diversity

Washington_quarter,_reverse_side,_2007Washington Gov. Jay Inslee ought to make it his top priority to consider racial and ethnic diversity when he names a temporary replacement for a state Supreme Court justice who is stepping down, an Olympian editorial says.

“Women hold five of the remaining eight seats on the court, but only Justice Steven Gonzalez reflects people of color,” the editorial says. It elaborates:

“Minorities in this state have always been underrepresented on the high court and as well on most lower court benches. Considering the evidence of racial preferences in voting during the 2012 election of Gonzalez, primarily in Eastern Washington, there’s a strong argument for giving a minority candidate a campaign advantage that could help even the score.” Read more

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‘A Real Constitutional Crisis’ Looming in Oklahoma?

FallinOklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (photo) said the state Supreme Court has exceeded its authority by staying the execution of two inmates. An outside death penalty expert, Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center, said Oklahoma “is teetering on a real constitutional crisis.”

The inmates have challenged a secrecy protocol involving the source of lethal injection drugs used by the state. The state Supreme Court stay put off the inmates’ executions until a hearing is held on their lawsuit, the Associated Press reported.

Of the state’s two high courts, the Supreme Court typically has authority over civil disputes, including the constitutionality of state laws, and the Court of Criminal Appeals is the top court for criminal cases, the Tulsa World said.

The governor said in an executive order, “While I have great respect for the honorable men and women of the Supreme Court, this attempted stay of execution is outside the constitutional authority of that body.” She said she was exercising her own constitutional authority to grant a stay of execution to one of the men; she didn’t mention the second. She directed Read more

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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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Commentary Looks at History of ‘Blue-Slip’ Process in Senate

US_Capitol_Dome_-_AOC_-_public_domainU.S. Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy has vigorously defended a Senate tradition called the blue-slip process. Leahy requires consent from both senators in the state where a judicial nominee will sit before the committee agrees to hold a confirmation hearing.

The tradition has generated controversy in recent months as Republicans use it to block some judicial nominees, following a Senate rules change that barred the use of another delaying tactic — the filibuster — for blocking most judicial nominations. But how venerable, and how ironclad, is the tradition?

A lengthy Think Progress commentary by Ian Millhiser examines its history and asserts, “The first Senate Judiciary chair to implement a single-senator veto — and the only one until Leahy — was Senator James Eastland (D-MS),” a plantation owner who as chairman beginning in the 1950s enforced the process in a way that “permitted Southern senators to veto any judge they feared might be sympathetic to ending Jim Crow.” Millhiser goes on to suggest that if Republicans win the Senate in November, Read more

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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.: Search for Fix Amid ‘Political Football’ Over Court

seal of the supreme court of njTwo former New Jersey Supreme Court justices who were appointed by Republican governors support a proposed constitutional amendment that would guarantee tenure for state judges unless they are found unfit for the bench, a Wall Street Journal article says.

The newspaper takes an in-depth look at the new proposal. On Friday the New Jersey Bar Association adopted a resolution calling for the measure (see Gavel Grab), and the idea behind it first was put forth by former Supreme Court Justice Gary Stein, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Thomas Kean. Justice Stein recently called for an end “to the diminishment and demoralization of the judicial branch of our state government.”

Also in support is former Chief Justice Deborah Poritz, who was nominated by Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman. ”An amendment would memorialize the system and make it stronger and less fragile,” she said. Read more

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Would GOP Senate Bring Blockade of High Court Nominees?

CapitolflagIf Republicans win control of the U.S. Senate in November, would the new Senate majority impose an all-out blockade of any nominee picked by President Obama for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015-2016? At Bloomberg View, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein handicaps the prospects of such a sweeping political maneuver.

Bernstein’s opinion piece is entitled “Republicans Should Resist Urge to Blockade Supreme Court.” He explains why it would be harmful if one party were to engage in such a baldly partisan blockade of any Supreme Court nominee selected by a president:

“This is all about blockading a seat on the Supreme Court, by refusing to confirm any potential nomination by President Barack Obama. I don’t know that I’d call that a constitutional crisis, but it would be contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. On the other hand, opposing a particular nominee is perfectly proper. The number of Democratic senators should determine how easy it is for Obama and the Democrats to be able to seat who they want, just as Republicans should be increasingly able to limit Obama as their own Senate conference gets larger. Read more

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