In his annual state of the judiciary speech, Arkansas Chief Justice Jim Hannah unveiled a new effort to educate citizens and legislators about the role of the courts.
Initiatives that Justice Hannah mentioned include, according to a CityWire.com article, a multimedia presentation aimed at adults; a speakers bureau of judges and lawyers; setting up public, moderated discussions bringing together judges, lawyers and legislators; and a “judicial ride-along” program for legislators. He also discussed efforts to reach out to teachers and business leaders.
Discussing the most recent legislative session, Justice Hannah said there “appears to be a movement toward a failure to recognize the value of, or for the need of independent branches of government generally, (checks and balances) and the role of an independent court system more specifically.” He continued:
“I am well aware that, even within leadership positions in our state, there is a lack of understanding of such basic concepts as separation of powers, federalism, the supremacy clause, judicial review or the binding nature of precedent – the rule of law. This lack of knowledge produces real consequences. Read more
The Senate has voted to confirm Magistrate Judge Luis Felipe Restrepo to a judgeship in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and U.S. Attorney Kenneth Gonzales to a judgeship in the District of New Mexico.
Peter M. Reyes Jr., national president of the Hispanic National Bar Association, said the HNBA was “proud to support the Honorable Luis Felipe Restrepo and commends the bipartisan efforts of U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and the U.S. Senate in confirming Judge Restrepo.” HNBA is a Justice at Stake partner group.
In the Washington Post, Al Kamen asserted that the Senate has recently been confirming judges “at a rapid clip” and this will put more pressure on the White House to announce nominees for scores of existing vacancies.
A commentary by Byron York of the Washington Examiner, meanwhile, was entitled, “On judges, Obama tells GOP: Don’t do unto me as I did unto you.”
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The Nevada Association of court executives has awarded a “Gold Star” to the U.S. Eighth Judicial District Court. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the award was given in recognition of the court’s fiscal responsibility, community leadership, and innovation in incarceration rehabilitation programs.
- An upcoming case before the Indiana Supreme Court dealing with a controversial coal and gas plant has raised some questions about a conflict of interest for Mark Massa, one of the judges on the court. Indystar.com reports that Massa’s friendship with Mark Lubbers, the plant developer’s top official, has led some to call for the justice to recuse himself from the case.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has called President Obama’s nominations to three fill vacancies on an influential appeals bench “court packing,” but an editorial in a leading home-state newspaper says Grassley is flat wrong.
The phrase refers to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s failed 1937 efforts to add seats to the Supreme Court and then name his appointees, a Des Moines Register editorial says. Today, on the other hand, Grassley has used a “bad analogy,” and “Filling vacancies on the federal courts is the president’s constitutional duty. Unless any of the three is found to be unsuited for the bench, the Senate should confirm them.”
A showdown may unfold in the Senate over Obama’s nominees for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. Grassley is a Republican. Read more
The secretive federal Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has gotten a measure of attention in the wake of recent disclosures about government telephone and Internet data-gathering programs. Now NPR’s Morning Edition has devoted an intriguing report to changes in the role of the court since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Here is reporter Nina Totenberg’s conclusion:
“At bottom, … few if any experts in the Bush or Obama administrations believe that the FISA court has the enforcement teeth it once had. Many of those teeth were pulled out by the 2001 Patriot Act and the 2008 amendments to the foreign intelligence surveillance law. For good or ill, as one expert put it, the court has been defanged, at least until and unless Congress decides to restore some of its powers.” Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Stetson University College of Law has written a report for the Corporate Reform Coalition entitled, “The SEC and Dark Political Money: An Historical Argument for Requiring Disclosure.” It was discussed in a Sunlight Foundation blog post by Torres-Spelliscy.
- Federal District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who presided over the Microsoft antitrust case, has died, the Associated Press reported.
Arizona’s requirement that would-be voters furnish proof of U.S. citizenship, beyond an oath on a federal document, was struck down by the Supreme Court on Monday.
The federal National Voter Registration Act “precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for a 7-2 majority, according to the Washington Post.
At the Daily Beast, election law expert Rick Hasen wrote a commentary entitled, “The Supreme Court Gives States New Weapons in the Voting Wars; What looks like a victory for the federal government may give states new powers to resist Washington’s control over elections.”
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has rejected a challenge by several state judges to a provision in the state’s constitution requiring judges to retire at age 70.
Voters approved the constitutional amendment 45 years ago in a legal fashion, the court majority said, according to a (Harrisburg) Patriot-News article. If judges want a change, they should consider seeking a constitutional amendment, the court said.
Justice Thomas Saylor wrote for in the 6-0 ruling, “Although certain societal circumstances may have changed since 1968, when the challenged provision was added to the Constitution — and, indeed, some of the original justifications for mandatory retirement may not have reflected the most fair or even the most beneficial public policy — the proper approach of conforming the Constitution more closely with petitioners’ vision of how experiential changes should be taken into account is to pursue further amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution.” Read more
A recent report by the American Constitution Society (ACS) about business group donations to judicial campaigns supports a perception that “justice is for sale,” Liz Seaton, Justice at Stake’s acting executive director, wrote in a commentary for the ACS blog.
The report, “Justice at Risk,” documented a correlation between donations by business groups to judicial campaigns and state supreme court justices voting in favor of business interests (see Gavel Grab). Seaton called the questions raised by the report “familiar, and … troubling.” She elaborated:
“While the report stops short of deciding ‘[w]hether the campaign contributions determine which judges are on the bench or they influence how the judges on the bench decide cases – or both,’ it underscores that ‘the rising tide of campaign contributions from interest groups is placing fair and impartial justice at risk.’ Justice at Stake agrees. This study shows that the public is right to be concerned, and vigilant.”
“Today, the ‘Justice at Risk’ report has fresh facts that unfortunately tend to support a popular perception that ‘justice is for sale’ in one important context, that of business cases in state courts. When it comes to enacting reforms to protect fair and impartial courts, the report helps build a stronger case.” Read more
“Iowans should take warning there are real consequences when justice has a price tag,” columnist Kathie Obradovich wrote in the Des Moines Register, taking note of a recent study by the American Constitution Society.
The ACS report found a significant statistical relationship between campaign money from business groups in state judicial elections and state supreme court justices voting in favor of business interests (see Gavel Grab). However, it did not find such a relationship in retention election systems.
And that spells “good news for Iowa,” Obradovich asserted, because the state’s Supreme Court justices initially are appointed by the governor in a merit-based selection process and later stand in a retention (yes-or-no) election.
Iowa legislators have resisted proposals to make major changes to the state’s merit selection process, and Obradovich interpreted the ACS study to suggest “that was the right decision in terms of keeping Iowa courts free of influences related to campaign fundraising.”