In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- Serial litigant John Jay Hooker has asked a court in Tennessee to stop reviews of judges by the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission. He contended the commission violates a law requiring that its membership shall “approximate the population of the state with respect to race and gender,” according to The Tennessean. The nine-member commission includes two women.
- Columnist Christian Schneider wrote a commentary for the (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel that was headlined, “Let Wisconsin Supreme Court justices pick their own chief.”
Former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz, whose saga of being targeted by big special interest spending in a judicial election has captured widespread attention, was to address a Wisconsin audience on Monday. In the run-up to his speech, WUWM radio aired a report saying Wisconsin’s judicial elections are among the nation’s nastiest and citing Justice at Stake as its source.
The “New Politics of Judicial Elections 2011-12″ report featured Wisconsin’s court elections as a case study, WUWM recounted, and the report “says the politicization and influence of outside money is undermining public confidence in the court.”
“When people have a perception that justice can be bought or sold, it undermines the whole system of our courts – our system of impartial justice,” former Justice Diaz says. His story has been told in a documentary and it inspired a novel by John Grisham.
The “New Politics” report was recently released by JAS, the Brennan Center for Justice and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
Two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices contacted state legislators earlier this year to signal support for a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected. Justice Patricia Roggensack, one of the two who voiced support, could benefit from the change.
The (Milwaukee) Journal Sentinel reported the developments, saying it is permissible for justices to lobby the legislature “but doing so runs the risk of deepening an already yawning rift on the court.”
Wisconsin’s chief justice currently is Shirley Abrahamson. Democrats and Republicans have divided over the legislation. Democrats contend the action is aimed at removing Justice Abrahamson, who has held the post for 17 years. Republicans say it would be better to have the Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- “Life’s Work: Sandra Day O’Connor” is a transcribed interview with the retired Supreme Court justice that appears in the latest edition of Harvard Business Review. Justice O’Connor recently joined Justice at Stake as its First Honorary Chair.
- A Legal Newsline article recaps a recent proposal, endorsed by the Wisconsin State Bar, that would limit state Supreme Court justices to a single, 16-year term. You can learn about opposing views of the proposal from Gavel Grab.
- A Twin Falls Times-News column by Randy Stapilus says creation of third federal district judgeship for Idaho is needed, and it is proposed in legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Simpson, an Idaho Republican.
The breadth of support for a proposed change to the way judges are selected in Minnesota is “amazing,” drawing on labor and industry sectors, the Chamber of Commerce, and large companies and small companies, a leading advocate for the change explained in a radio interview.
Former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson of the Minnesota Supreme Court has given a virtual primer about the way judges currently are chosen, and how the Impartial Justice Act would change that, in a KVSC interview that is available by podcast online.
The proposed constitutional amendment would combine merit selection of judges, retention (up-or-down) elections and nonpartisan evaluation of judges’ performance by an independent performance evaluation commission (see Gavel Grab).
Justice Magnuson said the amendment would provide voters with much more information about the qualifications of judges, and that it would help Minnesota avoid the experience of neighboring Wisconsin and some other states, where judges are chosen in high-spending, politicized and partisan elections.
“What happens when politics gets into judicial elections is the public loses confidence in the integrity of the judges,” Justice Magnuson warned. That hurts both the judicial system and people who use it, he said.
Wisconsin’s Assembly has followed the lead of the state Senate and approved a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the state Supreme Court Chief Justice is selected.
Democrats contend the action is aimed at removing Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who has held the post for 17 years, according to the Associated Press. Republicans say it would be better to have the Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law.
For the constitutional amendment to take effect, it would have to be approved by the legislature in its next session and then approved by voters statewide.
Wisconsin’s Republican-dominated state Senate has approved a proposal to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, despite Democrats’ criticism that the measure is politically motivated.
The Senate voted 18-15 in favor of a proposal that would have a majority of the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s members choose the Chief Justice, rather than have the justice with the greatest seniority hold the top post, as is now the law.
Former Justice Alton Davis (photo) of the Michigan Supreme Court, defeated in the 2010 election that saw Michigan lead the nation for judicial election spending, says big money has transformed judicial races.
“The old labels don’t mean anything. Republican doesn’t mean anything. Democrat doesn’t mean anything. It’s the huge money and everybody else. That’s the deal now, I think, going forward. Up and down the road,” he told reporters for a joint NPR and Center for Responsive Politics report.
The second part of the serialized report looks more closely at non-profit organizations that are commonly called social welfare groups, and are also known by their federal tax code designation as 501(c)(4) entities. Funds from one such entity, the Wellspring Committee, were channeled to another group that sponsored an ad critical of Justice Davis in the 2010 race (see Gavel Grab).
The Wellspring Committee was founded in 2008 and has raised $24 million, and given out almost $16.9 million to other social welfare organizations, according to the report. These groups are allowed to keep their donors secret. The report’s second installment is entitled, “Secret Persuasion: How Big Campaign Donors Stay Anonymous.” Read more
Since earlier this year, Texas has received a lot of attention over new abortion laws that have been working their way through the legislature and now courts. In a recent development, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans has reversed a decision made by a federal judge. The new ruling states that new admitting-privilege requirements should be in effect while the case continues to be argued.
At the beginning of last week the U.S. District Court in Austin declared the added requirements from more restrictive abortion laws to be unconstitutional because it is “without a rational basis and places a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion.” The appeals panel made the opposite conclusion. A piece in the New York Times states that the law was determined as serving a legitimate state interest in regulating doctors without imposing “undue burden” on the right to abortion, and therefore likely to be constitutional.
As many as 13 of the 36 clinics providing abortions in Texas will have to shut down services. Similar laws in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin have been blocked by courts temporarily. It is believed that a decision will ultimately be made by the Supreme Court, a continuation of a fight over how much say states may have in the restriction of abortion rights since the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.
WTAQ has reported that the Wisconsin Senate committee has voted to change the way the State Supreme Court Chief Justice is elected. For the past 124 years the most senior justice has been chosen to serve as the chief justice. The Senate Judiciary panel voted 3-2 in favor of a constitutional amendment that they believe would make it easier for the philosophical majority of the court to be represented. The chief justice would be chosen every two years by his or her fellow justices.
The current make up of the court leans conservative. The Assembly’s Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on the issue in which the chief sponsor of the amendment denied any attempt at giving the conservative majority more influence, and that this amendment in no way is attempting to take away influence from the current Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson.
The Wisconsin Assembly will vote on Thursday. If the amendment is to be successful it would have to pass the Assembly’s next session and then be subject to a statewide voter referendum.