Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Ballot Measures' Category

California Citizens United Ballot Initiative on Hold

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court issued a ruling halting action on a state ballot initiative that would have asked California voters’ opinions regarding the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C. (2010), the Los Angeles Times reports.

The provision, which would have had no binding legal effect, was contested because it would “not change state law.”

The ballot initiative is now on hold pending court review. Both sides agree that this decision means that the question will not appear on this year’s ballot.

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Preview of Ballot Measures Affecting Courts is Available

A preview of issues affecting state courts that will appear on state ballots this fall comes from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

The preview includes several contentious issues that have been mentioned in Gavel Grab: a proposed constitutional amendment to help preserve an appointive process for selecting Tennessee appellate judges (click here for Gavel Grab) and a proposed constitutional amendment to permit the outgoing Florida governor to make prospective appointments of judges, which has drawn criticism as a court-packing scheme (click here for Gavel Grab).

The National Center for State Courts is a JAS partner organization.

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Voters Defeat N.Y. Proposal to Raise Judicial Retirement Age

A proposed constitutional amendment to raise the mandatory retirement age to 80 for judges on the New York Court of Appeals and Supreme Court was rejected by voters on Election Day.

Sixty-one percent of voters opposed the measure, and 39 percent favored it, with results from 83 percent of precincts available, the New York Times reported. The newspaper discussed numerous political implications and motivations at play in the vote.

It was a “stinging rebuke” for New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who had advocated for the measure, according to the article, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo had lobbied against it. If adopted, the measure would have reduced Cuomo’s ability to shape the face of the highest court, because it would have lengthened the terms of several judges seated on it.

It was the fourth defeat in a row for proposals to raise state judges’ retirement ages across the country, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It is a JAS partner organization.

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Raising the Standard of Judicial Elections in Minnesota

The Coalition for Impartial Justice is hoping to raise the standard for electing judges in Minnesota.  The Coalition is showing support for the proposed Impartial Justice Act, which needs to pass the Minnesota House and Senate before heading to voters and would require judges to be evaluated by merit, retention elections and public performance evaluations.

Northlands Newscenter reported on a discussion of the proposal last Thursday, led by Iron Range Representative and the Impartial Justice Act co-author, Carly Melin.  The piece noted that organizers said the proposal will give voters the tools they need to elect qualified judges.  Sarah Walker, the President of the Coalition for Impartial Justice spoke to the benefits of the proposal.

“The reality is, you go to the ballot box, you turn over the ballot and no one has any idea who they’re voting for and I think that’s wrong. Furthermore, 90% of judges run unopposed and while we have a quality judiciary, occasionally you need to get rid of one bad apple. The reality is, we have no way to do that when over 90% of judges run unopposed,”

It is believed that the ballot will include the proposal in 2014.

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Elections, Instead of Merit Selection, Sought for Top Judges in Missouri

Missouri’s nationally recognized merit selection system for selecting top judges could face still another attack.

Approval by the secretary of state’s office for two similar constitutional amendments this week means supporters can begin working to seek enough signatures to bring the issue before voters in November 2014, according to the Associated Press. The proposals seek to replace merit selection with popular election of judges, and they would expand the size of the state Supreme Court from seven to nine justices.

The “Missouri Plan” for selecting  judges has provided a model for many other states. Critics of the plan, from both inside and outside the state, have launched attacks on it for more than a decade. Read more

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New York Voters to Weigh Raising Retirement Age for Judges

Voters in New York state will be asked to decide on Election Day whether to raise from 70 to 80 the retirement mandate for judges on the state Supreme Court and on the Court of Appeals.

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and other advocates in support of the measure say it would help the courts deal with a backlog of cases, according to a Gotham Gazette article. But the proposal is contentious, and a majority of those surveyed in a recent poll said they would vote no.

The mandated retirement age would be the second highest in the nation if approved, after a ceiling of 90 in Vermont, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. It is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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In Missouri, Conflict Over Judicial Selection May Continue

Despite Missouri voters’ decisive rejection of a ballot measure to undermine the merit-based selection of judges (see Gavel Grab), backers of the ballot item vowed to renew their efforts.

“We’re not going away; the movement or the effort is not stopping,” said James Harris, a leader of a group called Better Courts for Missouri that has sought to alter the way judges are chosen. “We made a strategic decision to withdraw on Amendment 3 and kind of regroup and move forward with something more aggressive,” Harris said, according to an Associated Press article.

“Missouri’s voters have decisively rejected a special-interest campaign to inject politics into Missouri’s courtrooms,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a press release after 76 percent of Missouri’s voters cast their ballots against the proposal.

The leading defenders of Missouri’s existing system, often called the “Missouri Plan,” said they will keep alive and active the group that opposed and helped defeat the ballot measure, the Missourians for Fair and Impartial Courts Committee. Read more

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New Hampshire Legislature Won’t Get Control of Courts

New Hampshire Question 2, which would have increased the legislature’s control over the judiciary, failed to secure the two-thirds majority needed to pass, reports a NHPR article.

The amendment, which supporters felt was necessary to clarify the legislature’s role in overseeing the courts’ practices, would have granted the legislature “concurrent power” to pass statutes governing New Hampshire’s court system.

Those who spoke out against the amendment argued that it violated the separation of powers. The amendment, they said, would give the legislature the power to impose its will on the judiciary.

In July, State Representative Lucy McVitty Weber wrote in a Concord Monitor commentary that the plan ”poses a grave danger to the long-established doctrine of separation of powers and the balance of power between the legislative and judicial branches,” reports Gavel Grab. Read more

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New Jersey Voters Pass Ballot Measure on Judges’ Benefits

On Election Day, New Jersey voters approved a ballot question to amend the state constitution and require state judges to make higher health and pension payments.

No campaign was mounted against the referendum, as judges and justices in New Jersey are not allowed to engage in politicking. Voicing opposition was the New Jersey State Bar Association, which contended the proposed constitutional amendment would undermine fair and impartial courts, according to a Star-Ledger article.

In July, New Jersey’s legislature moved to put the issue before voters after the state Supreme Court had exempted most judges from a new law requiring that public workers pay more for their health benefits and pensions (see Gavel Grab).

Gov. Chris Christie, an outspoken critic of the state Supreme Court, pushed both the state law and the ballot question.

Opponents of the ballot item said it could give the governor power to retaliate against judges for rulings he doesn’t support. The opponents also voiced concern that the amendment, if passed, could allow singling out of judges for salary and benefit cuts.



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Florida Voters Reaffirm Fair and Impartial Judiciary

On Tuesday, Florida voters retained three Supreme Court justices and rejected a proposed ballot measure that would have altered the state’s court system, “affirming the value of an apolitical judiciary,” a Herald-Tribune editorial says.

63 percent of voters opposed Amendment 5, which would have required Senate confirmation of Florida’s Supreme Court justices, and allowed legislators to alter rules for the court system. The amendment was called a power grab by state lawmakers and an example of overreaching, the editorial says (see Gavel Grab).

Floridians also voted to retain Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince. All three received about 67 percent of the vote, the editorial notes. The three had faced an “unprecedented opposition” by interest groups and the Republican Party of Florida.

According to the editorial, each of the justices raised almost $300,000 to finance their campaign. They were supported by lawyers and others in the legal field.

Despite efforts to inject politics into the courts this election, Tuesday “provided an encouraging affirmation of a judiciary free from unnecessary political interference.”

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