Archive for the 'U.S. Supreme Court' Category
An opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by legal journalist Andrew Cohen says judges in Alabama are overruling juries decisions and imposing the death penalty as a way to appease the electorate.
The piece titled Politics, not justice, in Alabama death penalty cases, cites the dissent of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor after the High Court declined to hear an Alabama case in which a jury voted 8 to 4 to give the defendant a life sentence for murder, only to see that result overturned by a judge.
“Alabama is one of only three states that give judges this override power in capital cases, and it is the only state in which judges regularly use that power to enhance sentences, said Cohen.
Cohen believes judicial elections are a major part of the problem.
“This is the strongest argument I have heard yet against judicial elections, the very existence of which undermine confidence in the impartiality of the judiciary. Any judge who has to beg future litigants for votes, or who has to promise her constituents that she will employ a particular doctrine or ideology, is tainted. It’s bad enough that judicial elections taint civil justice in states such as Texas. That they taint life-or-death decisions in Alabama is simply deplorable.”
A recent dissent by Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor raises concerning questions about the impact of judicial elections on actual justice, writes Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, in a Huffington Post essay. It is entitled, “The Deadly Problem of Judicial Elections.”
Justice Sotomayor wrote that elected Alabama judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in overruling juries to impose death sentences. She wrote the dissent when the high court declined to hear an appeal from Alabama death row inmate Mario Dion Woodward (Gavel Grab has background).
Fredrickson points to recent studies that go further when examining judicial elections. A Center for American Progress study said that as elections for state judges becoming increasingly partisan and costly, a concern about being slammed as “soft on crime” is leading judges to rule more often in favor of prosecutors, and against criminal defendants (see Gavel Grab). Separately, Read more
Lack of diversity on the bench, whether in federal or state courts and whether of race, gender, or background, poses a “huge danger” to the courts, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor told an audience at American University Washington College of Law this week.
“We’re missing a huge amount of diversity on the bench,” she said, according to a Blog of Legal Times report. Too few judges arrive at the bench from small practices, from civil rights experience or from the defense bar, she said. Justice Sotomayor said that it would “give the public more confidence” that they are getting a fair day in court if they can see their own backgrounds in judges sitting on the bench.
The justice urged those students who become lawyers to get involved in judicial selection and “keep the conversation going” about judicial diversity and its importance. She also contended that a glass ceiling is perpetuated by the legal profession, where the ranks of minority law partners are “dismally small.”
Elected Alabama judges “appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures” in overruling juries to impose death sentences in capital cases, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote in a dissent this week.
The nation’s highest court declined to hear the appeal of an Alabama death-row inmate convicted of killing a police officer, according to the Washington Post. Justice Sotomayor dissented, and she was joined by Justice Stephen Breyer.
In 27 instances since 2000, judges have imposed death sentences after juries recommended life in prison, she wrote in her opinion. All but one of the cases came from Alabama, and in that case, the trial court’s ruling was changed to life in prison with no parole by the Delaware Supreme Court.
“There is no evidence that criminal activity is more heinous in Alabama than in other states, or that Alabama juries are particularly lenient in weighing aggravating and mitigating circumstances,” she wrote.
“The only answer that is supported by empirical evidence is one that, in my view, casts a cloud of illegitimacy over the criminal justice system: Alabama judges, who are elected in partisan proceedings, appear to have succumbed to electoral pressures.” Read more
On Monday, Planned Parenthood asked the Supreme Court to reinstate an order that would prevent Texas from implementing part of a new law that limits access to abortions through heightening the restrictions placed on the doctors performing the procedure. This comes after more than one third of the state’s abortion providing facilities have been forced to halt procedures and drastically reduce their number of patients.
In order to prevent implementation of the law the high court will have to vacate a decision made on Thursday by the 5th Circuit to lift an injunction barring a challenged section of Texas House Bill 2 from taking effect. Courthouse News Service noted that the controversy over the case has included an 11-hour filibuster by Democratic state Senator Wendy Davis, who recently declared her candidacy for Texas governor.
The appeal from Planned Parenthood is directed to Justice Scalia, who covers Texas as the circuit court judge for the region. For more coverage of Texas, see past Gavel Grab posts here.
Since the start of the US Supreme Court term this year there has been a great deal of discussion about the cases that will be reviewed and decided on, including the precedents that have been set on issues related to these cases. Many precedents were formed while Justice at Stake’s Honorary Chair, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor served her time on the nation’s highest court.
O’Connor is known for providing the fifth vote to form a majority in controversial and close cases. A piece by Religion and Politics notes that she is the last justice to have served on the Supreme Court after having held an elected office, and the unique political understanding from that experience. The choices of today’s bench will either affirm O’Connors decisions or take a new path in interpreting the constitution on issues including prayer, abortion and contraception. For continued coverage of SCOTUS news this term, follow Gavel Grab here.
Ideally, there should be no occasion for a Supreme Court justice to step down from hearing a case over a financial conflict of interest, a former appeals court judge said, because justices should divest in advance to avoid such a potential conflict.
Former Judge Ken Starr gave that opinion at a panel discussion entitled “Today’s Supreme Court: Tradition v. Technology and Transparency,” sponsored by The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Blog of Legal Times reported.
“The goal should be no justice should step aside because of financial interest,” said Starr, now the president of Baylor University. “He or she should divest themselves as promptly as possible from whatever that interest might be that would prevent him or her from doing their job.” Read more
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent assertion that the current Supreme Court constitutes “one of the most activist courts in history” is getting more high-level scrutiny (for background see Gavel Grab).
In an August interview, Justice Ginsburg said that generally speaking, “if it’s measured in terms of readiness to overturn legislation, this is one of the most activist courts in history.” A New York Times article by Adam Liptak, however, says Justice Ginsburg went overboard in presenting her view.
“If judicial activism is defined as the tendency to strike down laws, the court led by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. is less activist than any court in the last 60 years,” Liptak reports.
The latest article isn’t likely to end the debate, however. Scholar Rick Hasen writes in his Election Law blog, “[M]y question is whether there have been more significant overrulings by the Roberts Court than prior courts. I don’t know the answer, and to answer it I’d have to start by having a good, consistent definition of ‘significant.’”
Meanwhile Mark Tushnet, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard Law School, wrote a Washington Post commentary entitled, “Five myths about the Roberts court.”
President Obama, in the midst of a partial government shutdown, has repeated his criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. It “contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now,” in his opinion, he said.
Huffington Post reported the following remarks by the president about the blockbuster ruling that cleared the way for unlimited independent spending by corporations and unions to influence the election of federal candidates:
“I continue to believe that Citizens United contributed to some of the problems we’re having in Washington right now.”
“You have some ideological extremist who has a big bankroll, and they can entirely skew our politics. And there are a whole bunch of members of Congress right now who privately will tell you, ‘I know our Read more
The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in a major campaign finance regulation case, McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, challenging aggregate limits on an individual’s giving to candidates and to committees. The court was divided, and to some leading news media, it appeared leaning toward a decision.
“The Supreme Court on Tuesday seemed prepared to strike down a part of federal campaign finance law left intact by its decision in Citizens United in 2010: overall limits on direct contributions from individuals to candidates,” reported the New York Times. A majority of the high court “seemed skeptical” of that limit, suggested the Washington Post.
A final ruling from the court may be limited in its scope. Reuters reported that the court “signaled an unwillingness to issue another broad ruling on how much people can donate in federal elections.” Read more