Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

Editorial: Is Overhaul Plan ‘Political Payback’ for Kansas Court?

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopLegislation passed by the Kansas legislature to increase state court funding — contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system — is criticized by a Wichita Eagle editorial.

The legislation, which state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said threatens an independent judiciary (see Gavel Grab), would allow local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission; and take away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges.

The editorial says the overhaul warrants greater study and appears to be a step backward. Then it slams politicians pushing for the overhaul and urges a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback of the legislation:

“It also strikes many as political payback related to the high court’s school-funding or other decisions. In any case, it’s wrong for the Legislature to use its appropriations power to force unwanted and unwarranted systemic change on the judiciary. Though it’s highly doubtful that the governor will veto the bill, he should.” Read more

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Report: Politicians Target Courts Over School Funding Orders

A new report by the Center for American Progress finds that “Conservative politicians are lashing out at courts that order equal funding for education,” as the report’s title states, and they are seeking to remove judges, reduce their authority or give the legislative and executive branches “exclusive control” over appointing judges.

According to the report by Billy Corriher, director of research for Legal Progress at CAP, some of the legislative proposals “violate the separation of powers principles in their respective state constitutions.”

The report takes a close look at Alaska, Kansas, New Jersey and Washington. Among the hostile actions against impartial courts that it cites are New Jersey Chris Christie’s declining to appoint a veteran state Supreme Court justice in 2010 (see Gavel Grab), a proposal to shrink the Washington Supreme Court from nine justices to five by having its members draw straws to see who steps down (see Gavel Grab), and “explicit threats” by leading Kansas Republicans to change the way state Supreme Court justices are selected if the high court went a certain way in issuing an education funding directive (see Gavel Grab).

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Bill to Shrink Washington Supreme Court is Killed

Washington’s Senate Rules Committee has deep-sixed a proposal to cut the size of the state Supreme Court through attrition from nine members to seven. The proposal was alternately seen as money-saving or court-bashing (see Gavel Grab).

The legislation was sent to the Senate Rules Committee’s “X” File last week, which effectively means it was killed, reported Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. Earlier, a separate Senate committee had sent the bill to the full Senate. Read more

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In Oklahoma Leadership Shuffle, Some Anti-Court Measures Die

Capitol DomeWhen T.W. Shannon was Oklahoma House Speaker early this year, he submitted at least eight bills  to revise the way Oklahoma Supreme Court justices are selected and how long they can serve on the bench (see Gavel Grab).

Last week, in the wake of Shannon’s leaving the state House in February, his eight judicial reform measures died when the first key legislative deadline passed, according to a Tulsa World article.  His legislative package apparently died in the shuffle of the House leadership, the newspaper said; the new House Speaker, Rep. Jeff Hickman, has pursued other priorities.

Shannon had made no secret of his unhappiness with a state Supreme Court ruling on tort reform last year. He  introduced bills to set judicial retirement ages and term limits, revise judicial  selection and create a new Judicial Performance Evaluation Board. He has left the state House to run for the U.S. Senate.

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Commentary: Bills Would Trim Authority of Kansas High Court

There is anxiety in the Kansas Legislature over an upcoming state Supreme Court decision on public education funding, and that anxiety “has apparently spurred” the introduction of bills to trim the authority of the court and its Chief Justice, Martin Hawver contends in a Hawver News Co. column.

One bill prohibits any Kansas court from spending money to hire a lobbyist, although, Hawver asserts, there are “Not a lot of court-hired lobbyists around the Statehouse.” Another would strip the Chief Justice of his authority to appoint 31 judicial district chief judges (see Gavel Grab), and a third would diminish the Chief Justice’s authority by having the Court of Appeals choose its own chief judge.

There is resolution to dismantle the judicial nominating commission that screens candidates for the state Supreme Court and recommends finalists to the governor for appointment, and another to switch to election of Supreme Court justices.


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Legislator to Washington Court: Speed up Rulings, Issue More

Washington state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, who introduced legislation to shrink the state Supreme Court in part to “push back” at the court (see Gavel Grab), now has sponsored a bill to get the court to deliver more decisions, more quickly.

“The legislature hereby orders the court to increase the number of cases it decides by fifty percent by the 2017-2018 court calendar,” his legislation states, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The language of the bill tracks in part recent language used by the state Supreme Court to prod the legislature on public education funding.

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

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Hickman Replaces Shannon, a Courts Critic, as OK Speaker

The Oklahoma House of Representatives has elected a new speaker, Republican Rep. Jeff Hickman, to succeed T. W. Shannon, who stepped down to run for the U.S. Senate. Shannon was a prominent critic of court decisions that he viewed as impeding legislative priorities, and during this session had introduced several controversial measures affecting Oklahoma’s courts.

Hickman was elected on Monday by a vote of 69 to 29, according to the Associated Press.

Shannon had recently introduced bills to set judicial retirement ages and term limits, revise judicial  selection and create a new Judicial Performance Evaluation Board. Republican critic Chris Davis, a lawyer, said in a recent op-ed the bills were “damaging to our system” (see Gavel Grab).

In a commentary written before Hickman was selected, M. Scott Carter wrote in The Journal Record that unlike Shannon, Hickman “has not tried to eliminate the third branch of state government.”

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Editorial: Danger Looms When Governor, Legislators Target Judiciary

The legislative and executive branches in Kansas are both taking aim at the judiciary, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says, and that’s dangerous. “[I]t’s important that it not be allowed to boil over to the detriment of the state,” the editorial cautions.

Legislators and the governor have signaled tension with the judiciary over state court rulings on the funding of public schools and even with the selection method for picking judges. The editorial focuses especially on recent remarks by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in his annual state of the state address.

Brownback said it was the legislature’s job to fund schools (see Gavel Grab). He went on to add, apparently jabbing at the judiciary, “Too many decisions are made by unaccountable, opaque institutions.” The editorial offers the following rejoinder:

“So are the courts really ‘unaccountable’ and ‘opaque’? Judges in all of the state courts are accountable to Kansas voters who have the opportunity to either elect or decide whether to retain them at regular intervals. And the courts are hardly opaque. Most of their proceedings are public, and testimony and decisions are painstakingly documented.”

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Full Washington Senate to Consider Court-Shrinking Bill

Washington’s Senate Law and Justice Committee has advanced to the full Senate a proposal to cut the size of the state Supreme Court through attrition from nine members to seven. The proposal was alternately seen as money-saving or court-bashing.

“This is simply a poke at another branch of government,” cautioned Democratic Sen. Adam Kline, according to a Spokesman-Review article. While suggestions to shrink the court date back several decades, the idea has gained momentum as some legislators voice displeasure over public school-funding rulings and directives from the state Supreme Court.

Committee Chairman Mike Padden, a Republican, pointed to more populous states that have fewer supreme court justices, and he said the savings represented by shrinking the court would amount to $1 million per justice.

You can learn more about the proposal, and sponsor Sen. Mike Baumgartner’s prior proposal to shrink the court to five members through the justices drawing straws, from Gavel Grab.

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Oklahoma Bill Would Sweep Out Majority of Top Judges

A flurry of proposals to reform judicial selection, impose judicial term limits, and change retirement requirements has marked political debate in Oklahoma recently (see Gavel Grab). Now a prominent legislator has introduced legislation that would  clear the top appellate courts of numerous sitting judges.

Republican state Sen. Anthony W. Sykes, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has pre-filed a 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 article continues to predict what could happen if the bill became law:

“Based on the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s biographies of the serving justices and the corresponding webpages for the Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals almost all of the Supreme Court members and perhaps a majority of the Court of Criminal Appeals would be forced out of office.”

In September, former Oklahoma Bar Association President Cathy Christensen wrote the following (see Gavel Grab) about an array of suggestions for change in the upcoming legislative session:

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