Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'U.S. Supreme Court' Category

Supreme Court Case: How to Balance Free Speech, Judicial Ethics

supreme_court_building_515The Supreme Court’s agreeing to consider a former judicial candidate’s challenge of her reprimand in Florida, for personally soliciting campaign donations in violation of a judicial ethics rule (see Gavel Grab), is getting increased attention.

The court’s taking up Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar has helped place Lanell Williams-Yulee in a “controversy that pits democracy and free speech against judicial ethics and due process,” Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate. 

Stern’s judgment of where the high court will end up is summed up in the commentary’s headline: “Justice for Sale: The Supreme Court is poised to make judicial elections even more corrupt.” Read more

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Two Kansas Justices Face Anti-Retention Effort Over Ruling

Justice Rosen

Justice Rosen

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider throwing out a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that struck down death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

Petitions to reinstate death penalties for Jonathan and Reginald Carr were filed with the nation’s highest court this week, according to the Wichita Eagle. The state Supreme Court’s voiding three of each man’s four capital murder convictions generated controversy, and now, some of the victims’ kin have created an organization devoted to defeating in November two of the justices who participated in the ruling. The group is called Kansans for Justice.

Justice Johnson

Justice Johnson

Only Justices Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen, of the court’s seven members, are on the retention (up-or-down) ballot, according to a different Wichita Eagle article. 

Mark Befort, brother of one of the victims, told the newspaper of the devastating pain his family suffered in both the crime spree and through re-living it when the defendants were tried in court. He said the state’s highest court “has voted to either eliminate these verdicts or force all of the family members and surviving victims to have to once again re-live those crimes in court, or see these guilty verdicts erased. Read more

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Supreme Court: Texas Abortion Clinics May Reopen

A general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in WashingtonRestrictive provisions in a Texas law curtailing access to abortions were blocked by the Supreme Court for now, permitting the reopening of more than a dozen abortion clinics, the New York Times reported.

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had earlier let the provisions stand while it proceeded to weigh an appeal (see Gavel Grab). The provisions involve requirements for abortion clinics to comply with standards for “ambulatory surgical centers” and for physicians performing abortions to have the privilege to admit patients at a hospital nearby.

The provisions have sparked a heated controversy, with state officials defending them as necessary to protect public health and abortion providers assailing them as unneeded, costly and intended to drive a number of them to shut down. Read more

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Essay: Will Court Draw Line Between Judicial and Political Elections?

111002075249-supreme-court-building-story-topThe Supreme Court might wrestle with some fundamental issues about judicial elections when it weighs whether states where judges are elected may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign cash, legal journalist Andrew Cohen asserts.

“Are the justices prepared to draw a line between judicial elections and political ones? And if so will the line be drawn here?” Cohen asks in a commentary at the Brennan Center for Justice blog. He notes that the case comes at a time of “unprecedented spending on (mid-term) judicial campaigns all across the country.”

“It is, indeed, hard to imagine a more reasonable restriction on someone who wants to be (or to stay) a judge. Sure, it restricts that candidate’s free speech rights. But every judge, including even the justices in Washington, is required to abide by certain restrictions upon their speech,” Cohen maintains. At the same time, he notes a division of opinion in federal appeals courts on the issue. Read more

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High Court on Marriage: ‘Judicial Activism’ or ‘Watershed Moment’?

Screen shot 2014-10-07 at 12.12.27 PMThe Supreme Court has opened its new term with a surprise blockbuster. When it let stand decisions that struck down five states’ bans on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab), the court cleared the way immediately for scores of new marriage vows, drawing both acclaim and condemnation.

A New York Times headline declared, “Supreme Court Hands Gay Marriage a Tacit Victory,” and an accompanying article reported, “Scenes of Exultation in Five States as Gay Couples Rush to Marry.” A Washington Post article called it a “turning point” and quoted a top ACLU lawyer as saying, “It is a watershed moment for the entire country.”

The white-hot marriage issue has provided plenty of grist in past years for foes to unload on judges over rulings they don’t like, however, and some of that continued on Monday.

David Lane, head of the American Renewal Project, warned, according to the Washington Post, “Impeachment begins in the House. I can’t figure out why a simple congressman won’t drop a bill of impeachment to remove people who are doing this to our country.” He added, “We’re going to deal with these problems — unelected and unaccountable judges — who have no right to interfere with the will of a free people.” Read more

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Supreme Court Declines to Review Marriage Rulings for 5 States

US Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to review decisions that struck down bans on marriage for same-sex couples in five states: Virginia, Utah, Oklahoma, Indiana and Wisconsin.

The court’s stance came as a “major surprise,” according to the New York Times, and means that marriages for same-sex couples may go forward in those states. The court’s move “suggests that the justices are not going to intercede in the wave of decisions in favor of same-sex marriage at least until a federal appeals court upholds a state ban,” the newspaper reported.

As a result of the court’s position, the number of states permitting marriage for same-sex couples will grow from 19 to 24. At the same time, the court’s action “puts off a decision about gay marriage nationally,” the Washington Post said. Read more

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Trust in Impartial Judiciary at Issue in New Supreme Court Case

When the Florida Supreme Court upheld earlier this year a ban on judicial candidates personally soliciting campaign contributions, it said the ban helps in “preserving the integrity of the judiciary and maintaining the public’s confidence in an impartial judiciary.”



Now a challenge to the ban from former local judicial candidate Lanell Williams-Yulee has made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, which agreed on Thursday to hear her appeal (see Gavel Grab). It was an article by News Service of Florida that reported on the Florida Supreme Court opinion, as news media began filling in more details about the case.

According to News Service of Florida, Williams-Yulee signed a 2009 letter asking potential supporters for donations as she launched a judicial campaign. She was not elected. The Florida Supreme Court reprimanded her.

In a brief, her lawyers maintained that bans on solicitation by judicial candidates censor speech that is not likely to lead to judicial corruption, according to the New York Times, and that do little because candidates are permitted to engage in fundraising through campaign committees, as well as extend personal thanks to contributors. Read more

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High Court to Consider Judicial Campaign Solicitations; JAS Reacts

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169The Supreme Court agreed on Thursday to decide whether states where judges are elected may bar judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign cash. Justice at Stake said about the issue, “Americans don’t want their judges standing on the courthouse steps with their hands out to raise money from parties who appear before them.”

The Supreme Court case ultimately “could affect hundreds of judicial races around the country,” the Associated Press reported. In Lanell Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, a Florida attorney who ran for county judge challenges a state rule that prohibits judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign money, claiming it violates the First Amendment’s protection of free speech.

The Florida Bar, defending the ban,  also asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the Florida rule (see Gavel Grab). Thirty states where judges are elected ban this kind of personal solicitation, in order to protect the integrity of the courts and public trust in them.

In addition to cautioning about judges “on the courthouse steps,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement on Thursday: Read more

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Marriage Equality Ruling Ahead? Supreme Court in Spotlight

111002075249-supreme-court-building-story-topAs the U.S. Supreme Court justices launched their new term with a private conference this week, they were the subject of attention on many news media fronts, with the issue of marriage for same-sex couples grabbing perhaps the highest profile.

A New York Times article was headlined, “Justices Embark on Road to a Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage,” and it suggested it is highly like the court will decide the issue one way or another by next June. The court could announce as early as this week which, if any, of several petitions for appeal on the topic it will consider in its new term. On other fronts, there was attention to immediate action by the court, and controversy around some of its justices: Read more

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Ginsburg Glum About Prospects Now For a Successor She’d Like

Ruth Bader GinsburgAmid debate about whether Supreme Court justices should time retirement with an eye to politics, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told an interviewer that if she stepped down now, President Obama “could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court.”

Justice Ginsburg was interviewed by Elle magazine, according to a Politico report. “Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have?” she said.

The 81-year-old justice suggested that in the Senate, Republicans would stand in the way of a potential nominee resembling her. When the Senate changed its rules last year to eliminate filibusters of most judicial nominees, Supreme Court nominees were not affected.

“As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can,” Justice Ginsburg said.

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