Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'State Court News' Category

‘A Real Constitutional Crisis’ Looming in Oklahoma?

FallinOklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin 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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Fair Courts Group Faults ‘Retribution’ in KS Governor’s Signing Bill

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s signing of a bill that links increased court funding with removal of some power from the state Supreme Court to district courts was blasted as “political retribution” by a group defending impartial courts.

courts_logoRyan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts, told the Wichita Eagle, “We are disheartened that the Governor has allowed political retribution to stand as a substitute for reasoned policymaking and respect for the rule of law.” Wright questioned whether the new law will promote justice.

Some news reports have said that the bill was passed by legislators displeased with a recent state Supreme Court ruling that parts of state funding of public school education were unconstitutional. Read more

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Four N.M. Justices Step Aside From Hearing Pay-Raise Case

NMJudiciaryAll but one of the five justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court have recused themselves from hearing a lawsuit that challenges Gov. Susana Martinez’s veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise.

The judge who did not recuse, Justice Richard Bosson, was named acting Chief Justice to preside over the case, and he will pick pro tem judges to hear it, according to an Albuquerque Journal article.

The lawsuit contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries. New Mexico’s trial judges are the lowest-paid in the nation. For background about the lawsuit, see Gavel Grab.



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Top Illinois Judge Touts Importance of Judicial Diversity

honritagarmanIllinois Supreme Court Chief Justice Rita Garman discussed the importance of diversity in the judiciary when she addressed a local audience in Bloomington, Il. this week.

“We need judges who are from all parts of society,” Justice Garman told the McLean County League of Women Voters, according to The (Bloomington) Pantagraph. It is important for people who enter the courtroom to see judges of diverse backgrounds, she said. ”The justice system must not only be fair but be perceived to be fair,” Justice Garman said.

To learn about Justice at Stake’s work to increase diversity on the bench, see the JAS web page about this issue.

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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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N.M. Lawsuit Over Judicial Pay Veto Raises Questions

Numerous questions are raised by a newly filed lawsuit  against New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, challenging her veto of a budget provision to provide judges an 8 percent raise, according to news media accounts.

The lawsuit was filed by individual judges, two state senators, and groups representing state judges. It contends that the legislature, not the governor, has the right to set judicial salaries, according to a New Mexico Watchdog report.

That publication quotes Enrique Knell, a spokesman for the Martinez administration, as saying New Mexico Chief Justice Petra Jimenez Maes lobbied the governor’s office to advocate for the judicial raises. Read more

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‘Court-Packing’ Plan Withdrawn in Alaska Senate

Alaska-quarterA proposed constitutional amendment to revamp membership of the Alaska Judicial Council, by doubling the number of its members who are named by the governor, was withdrawn by its sponsor in the state Senate.

The council serves dual roles, as both a judicial nominating commission and a judicial performance evaluation board. It has three lawyer members appointed by the Alaska State Bar Association, three non-attorney members appointed by the governor, and the Chief Justice as chair. The measure would have doubled the non-attorney members appointed by the governor from three to six, in what the Senate Democratic leader called a “court-packing” plan (see Gavel Grab).

An Alaska Dispatch article was headlined, “Senate withdraws plan to double governor’s picks on council for judge nominees.” The bill sponsor said he wasn’t certain there was enough support for the two-thirds vote needed to approve a constitutional amendment. Earlier, an Alaska Dispatch op-ed by attorney Lance Parrish had said about the GOP-led proposal, “[T]his is strictly about a power grab based [on] the assumption that Republican political pressure can be exerted.” Read more

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Tennessee Judicial Evaluation Committee Faces Inquiry

A Tennessee legislator has introduced an inquiry into the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission (JPEC), saying it could be prone to lawsuits.

Rep. Judd Matheny told The Tennessean that he is concerned that Tennessee may face lawsuits over whether the JPEC, which has the sole power to determine if appellate judges stand unopposed for retention elections, violated the law when it met and made decisions.

Read more

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Spotlight on NC Supreme Court Race

An article in The News & Observer  points to heightened political interest in the state’s 2014 Supreme Court election.  “With four of the seven seats on the ballot this year in a state where politics have become hyperpartisan, there have been NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224accusations of gamesmanship in races that until recently had not seen a huge infusion of outside money,” the piece notes.

The race has been rocked by last-minute challenges to two incumbent associate justices, including one running for the Chief Justice seat.  The surprise challenges to the justices, whose campaigns had been expected to be uneventful,  have raised eyebrows as the state’s May primary approaches.

This year’s judicial race in North Carolina will be run against the backdrop of 2012′s multimillion-dollar state Supreme Court contest, and without the availability of public financing for judicial campaigns.  Despite popular support for public financing, the state did away with it in 2013 (see Gavel Grab).  The high-spending 2012 judicial race in the state was also noted in a News & Observer piece April 5. The piece cited Justice at Stake’s New Politics of Judicial Elections report, which highlighted North Carolina’s judicial race as the fourth most expensive in the nation in 2011-12.


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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has named a Criminal Appeals Judge, Jeff Bivins, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state Supreme Court, according to the Associated Press.   The governor recently established a screening commission to recommend candidates for high court seats.  The appointment comes as the state is weighing a constitutional amendment to permanently establish gubernatorial appointment of its judges (see Gavel Grab).
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