Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Sandra Day O’Connor' Category

Will High Court Case Stoke Broad Debate on Electing Judges?

Sandra_O'ConnorIn agreeing to decide whether states where judges are elected may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign cash (see Gavel Grab), has the U.S. Supreme Court fueled broader debate about judicial elections overall?

“[Campaign contributions] impact the extent to which citizens believe that judicial decisions are based on the law rather than other factors, such as to whom a judge might feel beholden,” a Mother Jones article quoted retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as saying this summer. “In my mind, judicial campaign support—whether it involves direct contributions or independent spending—automatically creates an appearance of impropriety when supporters are involved in court cases.”

Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake, and the article drew on JAS data in reporting that since 2000, a total of 20 states have surpassed their prior records for judicial election spending. The article was headlined, “Supreme Court To Decide if Judges in 30 States Can Solicit Campaign Cash.”

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On 40th Anniversary, a Salute to Merit Selection in Arizona

1280px-Flag_of_Arizona.svgArizona marks the 40th anniversary this year of its adoption of merit selection for choosing appellate judges and Superior Court judges in its largest counties. In an Arizona Republic op-ed, Chief Justice Scott Bales says the system has “allowed Arizona’s judiciary to earn a national reputation for fairness, efficiency and innovation.”

The Chief Justice’s op-ed is largely explanatory about how merit selection works to seat well-qualified judges, and about the Judicial Performance Review system, established by voters in 1992, to which all merit-selected judges are subject. Justice Bales also writes of  high regard nationally and in the state for Arizona’s system: Read more

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Commentary: Florida Governor Threatens Judicial Independence

043008_Sandra-O_Connor_200110317012600_rick-scottRetired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has criticized “persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges.” Florida Gov. Rick Scott would do well to listen to her, a commentator writes.

At SaintPetersBlog, retired St. Petersburg Times associate editor Martin Dyckman says the independence of 26 judicial nominating commissions in Florida has “vanished under Scott,” who on 19 occasions has rejected lists of names for the panels recommended to him by the Florida Bar.

Florida’s governor appoints all nine members of each screening commission, including four members from lists recommended by the Bar.

By contrast, Dyckman notes that the  “O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan,” recently issued by the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (see Gavel Grab), takes a different tack. IAALS is a JAS partner organization. Read more

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O’Connor Enjoys a ‘Bully Pulpit’ Advocating Judicial Selection Reform


Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s advocacy, to replace state judicial elections with an appointive system using bipartisan screening commissions, continues to grab newspaper headlines.

The N.Y. Daily News reported, “Sandra Day O’Connor decries letting ‘cash in the court’ with judicial elections: The retired U.S. Supreme Court justice is lending her voice to the Quality Judges Initiative, which advocates for the use of nominating commissions to replace elections for judges.”

The article said, “Sandra Day O’Connor may have left the bench but she still has a bully pulpit.”

You can read more from Gavel Grab about Justice O’Connor’s recently released Judicial Selection Plan, developed in conjunction with the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. Justice O’Connor also serves as Justice at Stake’s Honorary Chair.

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JAS Quoted in Praising O’Connor Judicial Selection Model

JAS-LogoJustice at Stake views a model judicial selection plan developed by retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as valuable for removing special interest influence from the courts, reported a national legal news publication.

“Justice O’Connor has advocated tirelessly for fair and impartial courts, and is renowned for her leadership role in this area,” said Liz Seaton, deputy executive director of Justice at Stake, according to the Legal Newsline article. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

“We are extremely proud that today, she and our partner group, IAALS, have released a plan that seeks to improve the U.S. justice system. We applaud this latest, outstanding achievement in a distinguished career and encourage everyone to read it.” IAALS refers to the Denver-based Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS Applauds ‘O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan’ for States

Retired Justice O'Connor, center; Rebecca Love Kourlis of IAALS, right; former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, left

Retired Justice O’Connor, center; Rebecca Love Kourlis of IAALS, right; former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor, left

Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System released on Wednesday the O’Connor Judicial Selection Plan, which Justice at Stake applauded. Justice O’Connor is Justice at Stake’s Honorary Chair.

“In recent years, I have been distressed to see persistent efforts in some states to politicize the bench and the role of our judges,” Justice O’Connor explained in an IAALS letter.  “This Plan is a step toward developing systems that prioritize the qualifications and impartiality of judges, while still building in tools for accountability through an informed election process. Our recommendations here can help states set a course toward improving and refining their processes, and, ultimately, strengthening their judiciary. We all must seek to achieve those goals, because the courts are the bulwark of our democracy and we can ill afford to see them undermined.” Read more

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Nader: Establish O’Connor and Stevens Institutes for Justice?

FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE O'CONNORBecause retired Supreme Court Justices Sandra Day O’Connor and John Paul Stevens have so actively articulated ideas about advancing law and justice in America, why not establish permanent institutes in their names?

Public interest advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader floats this idea in a Eurasia Review op-ed, suggesting that the institutes — if the Justices agreed — might be modeled after the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University Law School.

Retired-justice-Stevens-talks-ethics-Thomas-HMH8L4O-x-largeJustice O’Connor is Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake. Nader mentions her role and also some of her calls for action:

“Her addresses declaring existing legal services for the poor as grossly inadequate and arguing that our country needs more pro bono services by lawyers and supervised law students are among the most specific and eloquent ever delivered on that shame of the legal profession. She promotes increasing civic education in our schools and the ‘merit selection for judges’ in place of forcing our judges to grub for campaign cash from specific interests.” Read more

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Justice O’Connor Profiled on Birthday as Inspirational Figure

FORMER SUPREME COURT JUSTICE O'CONNORWhen retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor celebrated her 84th birthday this week, she was the subject of a tribute in a National Law Review article.

The article is headlined, “A Woman’s Work: Blazing the Trail – Sandra Day O’Connor.” It discusses her pioneering rise to become the first woman to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court and the obstacles she overcame, and it describes Justice O’Connor as an inspirational figure.

Justice O’Connor is the First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • iCivics, the nonprofit civics education organization run by Justice at Stake Honorary Chair Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, will convene a national Teachers Council in Washington, DC, in the summer of 2014,  according to Tribune Interactive. The Tribune report notes that an Alabama middle school teacher is among those selected for the Council.
  •  WDDE reports that Delaware’s Judicial Nomination Commission has officially submitted four candidates to Gov. Jack Markell to consider for Delaware’s next Supreme Court Chief Justice. The four candidates are Delaware Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger, Superior Court Judge Jan Jurden, Court of Chancery Chancellor Leo Strine Jr. and Superior Court President Judge James T. Vaughn Jr. One of these candidates will replace Myron Steele, who stepped down from the position last month. Gov. Markell is expected to make his nomination and submit it to the senate in January when the General Assembly returns to work.
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At Reform Group Event, O’Connor Touts Merit Selection

At a 25th anniversary celebration for Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor urged a shift away from partisan judicial elections in the state.

“Judicial independence means that judges are free to decide cases on the basis of law and facts, rather than on the basis of campaign contributions,” Justice O’Connor said, according to a Law360 article. “If it’s not present, our confidence in the judiciary crumbles.”

“Moving away from partisan election of judges is tremendously important,” Justice O’Connor added in the keynote address. She described the success of Arizona, where she once served as a legislator and judge, in adopting a merit-based judicial selection system. “I wish all of you every success in your efforts to protect the integrity of your courts,” she said.

PMC, a Justice at Stake partner organization, has been pushing for Pennsylvania to end judicial elections (see Gavel Grab about recently introduced, bipartisan legislation) and adopt a merit selection system. Justice O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its first honorary chair. Read more

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