In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Justice Robin Hudson announced a bid for re-election on Thursday for another eight-year term on the North Carolina Supreme Court. According to a write-up by the Associated Press, the 61-year-old Hudson has claimed the endorsement of a dozen former appellate court judges.
- The Michigan Supreme Court is hearing arguments at Big Rapids High School. The Associated Press reported that students from different high schools will be part of an audience for the case along with Ferris State University students. A similar event took place in New Hampshire recently, see Gavel Grab for more.
- Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote about the black robes judges wear in a piece for Smithsonian Magazine. Since she became a trial judge in Arizona in 1975, black robes have been a part of her life for almost four decades. The piece explores the history of judicial robes, including special traditions at the Supreme Court. Justice O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its First Honorary Chair.
An annual “On the Road” event brought the New Hampshire State Supreme Court and a unique lesson on the judicial branch to Concord High School. The five justices started their day listening to oral arguments in two actual cases and questioning attorneys, then took questions from the student audience.
Students took the opportunity to ask the justice’s about their paths to the bench and the particulars of how judges make decisions. The two female justices took a question on whether or not they had ever felt impeded by sexism during their careers. Justice Carol Conboy noted that earlier in her career, she felt people assumed that male lawyers were competent until proven incompetent whereas female lawyers had to prove competency.
While the justices said they could not answer questions about the specific cases, attorneys for both sides fielded questions from the audience.
The Concord Monitor covered the event and interviewed several students about the experience. A senior from Bow High School commented that it was a less formal atmosphere than she had expected and an overall positive learning experience. She is quoted saying “I thought it was cool to relate to it…”
Justice at Stake also recognizes the importance of civics education and opportunities to promote awareness of the judicial branch. JAS has created a program titled Our Courts America with the new website, ourcourts.org to help people understand the role of the courts and the importance of supporting them. Resources will be provided to help judges, lawyers, and community leaders have access to the tools needed for organizing civic education programs.
When federal judges warn that the courts are facing a crippling funding crisis, U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa (photo) should pay attention to their plea, declares an editorial from the senator’s home-state Des Moines Register.
In a letter to congressional leaders — including Grassley — last month, the chief judges of 87 federal district courts said inadequate budgets plus recent sequestration cuts have had a “devastating” impact on court operations. They urged Congress to spare the courts any further cuts (see Gavel Grab). But Grassley, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, was not moved, according to the editorial.
His staff told the Register in an email, “Every agency across the federal government can point to tough decisions and difficulties in implementing the sequester. Knowing that the current levels of expenditures are unsustainable, the question should be how best can we in the federal government reduce spending and minimize the impact on the American people.”
The editorial offered a different take:
“Grassley is right that savings can be found in the federal budget, but it’s Congress’ job to set priorities. It is a failure of political leadership to make cuts across the board that penalize essential services on par with expendable ones. The federal courts are not expendable, and Congress should make sure they are fully funded.” Read more
When it comes to a local county Superior Court’s ranking near the bottom in New Hampshire for the time it takes to resolve a criminal case, the culprit is court funding cutbacks from the state capital, a Keene (N.H.) Sentinel editorial asserts.
“[T]he primary reason for the delay is simple: money. Because of state budget cutbacks in the past several years, the Superior Court is operating with too few judges,” the editorial states in paraphrasing Superior Court Tina L. Nadeau, who discussed the issue for a recent news article published in the same newspaper.
“The cases of Cheshire County’s criminals, alleged or otherwise, are languishing because of a lack of funding from Concord, just as the region’s mental health services, care for the elderly and disabled, and services for children have suffered during the same time,” the editorial concludes.
The editorial is headlined, “Justice Delayed.” Across the country, budget constraints have caused similar problems in numerous counties and cities. If you have a story about why court funding matters, share it with us here: http://courtfundingmatters.com/
Using an executive order, Gov. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire has created a Judicial Selection Commission to screen and recommend judicial candidates. A similar commission established by then-Gov. John Lynch formally expired on Jan. 1, according to a Union Leader article.
The announcement by New Hampshire’s governor came at the same time that legislatures in Kansas and Tennessee have moved in the opposite direction, gutting the role of judicial screening panels.
In Kansas, the governor recently signed legislation to dismantle a long-used merit selection process, including such a panel, for naming Court of Appeals judges (see Gavel Grab), and in Tennessee, the legislature let die a bill to extend the life of a Judicial Nominating Commission (see Gavel Grab).
Hassan named the members of the 11-person commission. They include attorneys, Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter paid a visit to New Hampshire’s Hillsborough County Superior Court this week. The New Hampshire Union Leader reports that Souter heard his first case at the courthouse on April 10, 1967.
- Iowa Supreme Court justices visited the city of Dubuque this week as part of an ongoing tour that started in 2011. According to KWWL News, the justices listened to oral arguments in two cases on Wednesday.
- The Charleston Gazette reports that West Virginia Supreme Court Justice Franklin D. Cleckley will be presented with the Neil S. Bucklew Award for Social Justice by West Virginia University’s Division of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. The article notes that Cleckley is the state’s first African American Supreme Court justice.
- Criminal trials in California courts are being delayed due to severe budget cuts, but state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tanil Cantil-Sakauye is working to restore court funds, says the Mercury News. Cantil-Sakauye has argued that the nearly $1.2 billion in budget cuts have “crippled the California courts.”
Despite bipartisan pleas from President Barack Obama for Senate Republicans to end their filibusters of his nominees, judicial candidates continue to wait extraordinary lengths of time to be confirmed, states a New York Times editorial.
Compared to his predecessors, the average wait on a confirmation vote for Obama’s judicial nominees has been 227 days. President George W. Bush’s nominees waited an average of 175 days, according to the editorial.
Senate Republicans filibustered New York attorney Caitlin Halligan twice, leading her to withdraw from consideration last week (see Gavel Grab). If Republicans won’t stop their “malicious behavior,” then Democratic senators must step up and change Senate rules to prohibit filibusters on nominations, the editorial argues. Read more
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
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- As a result of a glitch in New Mexico’s public campaign finance law, the state’s Supreme Court candidates have not been able to opt for public financing, reports the San Francisco Chronicle. New Mexico’s Supreme Court candidates, Republican Justice Paul Kennedy and Democrat Barbara Vigil, have spent more than a combined $100,000 so far.
- According to the Plain Dealer, the Ohio State Bar Association has requested the Ohio Republican Party to cease airing ads against Justice Robert Cupp’s challenger, Judge Bill O’Neill. The ad asserts that Judge O’Neill is sympathetic to rapists because of a specific decision he made in a past case.
- To cope with continuous cuts to California’s court system, the San Francisco northern branch of Northern County moved some of its family law functions to Redwood City, the Daily Journal writes. Beginning on November 1, complex civil litigation and California Environmental Quality Act cases will also be transferred to Redwood City’s Hall of Justice.
- New Hampshire voters will decide on Ballot Question 2, a proposed constitutional amendment to give more administrative control of the state’s court system to the legislature. Seacoastonline.com explains that supporters of the ballot believe it will serve as a needed check on judicial authority. Opponents, on the other hand, say the ballot will only undermine the court’s independence.
With help from four former state supreme court chief justices, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) has launched a new blog, called IAALS Online.
IAALS, a JAS partner group, is a national research center working to improve the civil justice system. IAALS Executive Director Rebecca Love Kourlis explains the blog’s mission this way:
“Our work depends on so many—it depends on the lawyers, judges, legislators, researchers, bar leaders, court administrators, litigants and others we’ve worked with to research, implement, and measure solutions to advance a more accessible, efficient and accountable civil justice system. And it depends on all of you who are committed to a legal system that serves society as intended. We believe IAALS Online will allow us to harness the power of national conversations to identify and improve solutions for a stronger system.”
The introductory post by Kourlis, a former Colorado Supreme Court justice, also features a series authored by the four former chief justices, called “Chief Among Our Concerns.” All of the chief justices have worked with IAALS.
These are the former chief justices and their topics:
- Former Arizona Chief Justice Ruth McGregor on the IAALS Quality Judges Initiative;
- Former New Hampshire Chief Justice John Broderick on the IAALS Rule One Initiative;
- Former Oregon Chief Justice Paul DeMuniz on the IAALS Honoring Families Initiative;
- Former Utah Chief Justice Christine Durham on the IAALS Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers Initiative.