Archive for the 'State Court News' Category
The Associated Press summed up the high court’s reasoning this way: “[T]he court said Kansas’ poor school districts were harmed when the state made the decision to cut certain payments when tax revenues declined during the Great Recession.”
In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court instructed the trial court to ensure that school funding was equitable in districts across the state. It asked the court to determine “promptly” an adequate level of funding, and established a deadline of July 1 for lawmakers to replenish two funds that are intended to help poorer school districts, through support for their capital improvements and general operations. Read more
“[I]t’s for the best” that a set of proposals to reshape Oklahoma’s judiciary, submitted in the legislature by then-House Speaker T.W. Shannon, have died in committee, a Tulsa World editorial said.
Shannon sponsored the legislation in response to state Supreme Court rulings that found parts of Shannon’s top legislative achievements unconstitutional. His proposals that recently died included a 12-year term limit for some judges, mandatory retirement for judges at age 75 and changes to the way judicial nominees are selected. Shannon has departed the legislature.
“Changes to our form of government on this scale shouldn’t be made in hasty reaction to events. It’s a variation of the old theme that hard cases make bad law. Reshaping our form of government calls for deliberation and consensus both of which were missing from the effort,” the editorial said.
If the Kansas Supreme Court rules soon that the legislature is underfunding public education in an unconstitutional way, there could be a “shipwreck” ahead, journalist Davis Merritt writes in a Wichita Eagle commentary.
Here’s why, according to Merritt: Moderate Republicans have been ousted from the Republican-controlled legislature, and since a state Supreme Court ruling in 2005 that public education was underfunded, there’s been “an unprecedented level of anti-court antagonism on the part of the governor and his legislative followers, often expressed in apocalyptic suggestions about changing the way justices are appointed, slashing the court’s budget, or amending the constitution to strip the court of the power to interpret it. Or even flatly defying the court’s order, a true disaster of democracy.”
In the face of this dynamic, the high court is doing its job, Merritt, writes, as “the last shield we have against unilateral legislative tyranny.” He quotes Chief Justice Lawton Nuss as stating in January, “We do not take money from either side (in a legal dispute). Nor do we decide cases based on money’s distant cousins: threats and other pressures…. We fairly and impartially apply the law.”
In an interview with KQED Public Radio in California, the dean of the U.C. Davis Law School suggested there is improvement in diversity on the state’s courts overall, but a large gap remains between the state’s population of Hispanics and its judges who are Latino.
“We’re talking a situation today where basically 60 percent of K-12 students are Latino, and less than 10 percent of the trial court judges are Latino. When justice appears to be meted out by unrepresentative judges, I think that there’s a concern about the legitimacy of the results and the possible racial injustice of it all,” said Kevin R. Johnson (photo). He is the first Latino head of a University of California law school.
Johnson also noted the absence of a Latino or an African-American justice on the state Supreme Court, and a margin of 2-1 males to females on the Court of Appeals and the trial courts. Johnson said a diverse appeals court can help lead to better judicial decision-making by “bringing together a variety of perspectives, a variety of thoughts, a variety of ways of looking at the world.”
Legislation that would clear Oklahoma’s top appellate courts of numerous sitting judges was approved by the state Senate Pensions Committee this week.
Republican state Sen. Anthony W. Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, submitted the bill that “would provide a maximum age qualification: a judge must retire when the sum of their age + years of service as a judge = 80,” according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The bill is retroactive. It cleared its first committee hurdle, the Pensions panel, on Feb. 24, Gavel to Gavel reported.
The National Center for State Courts is a JAS partner organization.
A potential conflict of interest may be ahead in a proceeding before several Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, yet they have no obligation under existing law to recuse themselves, Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress writes in a ThinkProgress blog.
Corriher writes: “A criminal probe in Wisconsin targets several major spenders on state supreme court races. Yet the justices who benefited from that spending will likely get to decide whether this probe moves forward.” The secretive investigation focuses on GOP candidates in 2011 and 2012 Wisconsin recall elections and interest groups that backed them with spending.
The Wisconsin Club for Growth and Citizens for a Strong America are among targets of the investigation, according to the blog post. In 2011, they spent more than $1 million in support of incumbent Justice David Prosser who was seeking reelection, the post said, based on data from the Brennan Center for Justice. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.
A Forbes blog post picked up on the ThinkProgress report and declared in its headline about judicial elections, “The Second Worst Idea in American Politics.”
An Alabama state Senate committee has approved on a 3-2 vote a proposed constitutional amendment to allow recall votes on various elected public officials, including judges. In South Dakota, a House committee rejected 13-0 a similar proposal.
A public affairs professor at Boise State University in Idaho is questioning criticisms of judges recently made by an Idaho Supreme Court justice, Daniel T. Eismann, and separately by Gov. Butch Otter.
Justice Eismann (at right of two photos) “accused his fellow justices of ignoring the law and imposing their own preferences and prejudices in the outcome of a case” in a medical claims case dissent, David Adler wrote in an Idaho Statesman commentary.
“[I]t is rare,” Adler said, “to find a judge pulling back the curtain, and accusing his colleagues of engaging in rank partisanship. That’s because judges across America have assumed the responsibility of protecting the integrity of the courts.”
The governor (at left of two photos), according to Adler, dismissed U.S. District Court Judge B. Lynn Winmill “as ‘someone who might not share Idaho values’ when it comes to appreciation of the market and freedom.” The remark “was so far from the mark as to be frivolous,” Adler wrote.
District Court Judge Thomas McCarthy of Sibley County, Minnesota says he’s retiring early in order to let the governor, instead of voters, choose his successor — because the appointive process is more likely to seat more qualified jurists, he says.
Judge McCarthy shares his frank opinion in a Star Tribune column. He strongly approves of the thorough process undertaken by the Judicial Selection Committee to vet applicants for a judgeship and make recommendations to the governor for a mid-term vacancy, and he’s more skeptical that a contested election will result in selection of the best candidate:
“It may be claimed that an educated electorate can be just as effective of an arbiter of these qualifications as the Selection Committee. In a perfect world, that would be true. However, I have been in other states during campaign seasons, and have seen and heard television, radio and newspaper advertisements on behalf of judicial candidates. At best, they give a brief sketch Read more
Chief Justice Nuss questioned whether legislation to take away the high court’s authority over the state court system’s budget, and allow 31 judicial budgets administered by each district instead, might be unconstitutional.
“So if this 37-year-old unified court system is to possibly be changed, why not let the people of Kansas change their mandate through a majority of a statewide vote on a constitutional amendment?” he asked, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal. “Or if there is absolutely no question about the constitutionality of SB 364, then at a minimum why not have a thorough study of this proposed change — as was done in the late 1960s and again in the early ’70s?” Read more