Gavel Grab

Editorial Scorches Florida Amendment as Assault on Courts

florida-state-flagBy voting no on a proposed constitutional amendment about judicial appointments, an Orlando Sentinel editorial declares, “Floridians can repudiate this latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts.”

The proposed amendment would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective judicial appointments to fill certain vacancies that take effect on inauguration day. The editorial slams it as reflecting “crude power politics” and representing another in a series of “misguided attempts to assert more control over the courts” by legislators in Tallahassee.

While supporters of the proposed amendment say it is needed to avert a potential constitutional crisis due to confusion about existing law, the editorial asserts that a Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion in 2006 clarifies that an incoming governor has the relevant appointment power. The editorial says an amendment is not needed. Read more

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Essay: Court Battles Over Voting Rights Have High Stakes

There are high stakes for this year’s midterm elections, for the 2016 presidential elections and for the longer-term protection of citizens’ voting rights in a series of battles in the courts over how hard or easy it is to cast a vote, election law scholar Rick Hasen writes at Slate.

Hasen casts a spotlight on legal disputes, court rulings, and options for U.S. Supreme Court action in his essay, entitled “The Voting Wars Heat Up: Will the Supreme Court allow states to restrict voting for partisan advantage?” Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Regarding ex-Justice Joan Orie Melvin of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the Tribune-Review reported, “Prosecutors float possibility of jail time for Melvin.” For background, see Gavel Grab.
  •  U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller of Alabama, who faces a domestic assault charge, still is in the news. “So far, lawmakers not seeking impeachment of federal judge,” USA Today reported.
  • A Buffalo (New York) News editorial challenged a process whereby local political party chairs effectively selected who will become a state Supreme Court justice through their cross-endorsements; the elections “belong in the hands of voters,” not party chairs, it said.
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American Judicature Society to Dissolve; JAS Voices Sadness

The American Judicature Society has announced that after 101 years of work to protect the integrity of the American justice system, it will close its doors. Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg made the following statement on Tuesday:

“A century ago, AJS helped light the fuse for decades of reform and progress designed to make our democracy better by keeping our courts strong, fair and independent.  We salute all of the AJS staff, directors, and faithful supporters who have worked so hard over the years to make our society better.  We are very sad to see the organization close, but its legacy will inspire all of us who work to keep courts fair and free of political influence.   In a democracy, public vigilance is essential to maintaining fair and impartial courts: Justice at Stake pledges to redouble its efforts to educate and advocate for this critical pillar of our democracy.”  Read more

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Editorials: Wisconsin Court Under Cloud, Reform is Needed

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgWith the Wisconsin Supreme Court beset by credibility problems arising from judicial election spending on justices’ behalf, two editorials say, it’s time to seriously consider switching to a better method for picking judges.

As Gavel Grab mentioned earlier, the high court has before it a decision whether to shut down a state campaign finance investigation, and four justices have benefitted from millions of dollars of campaign spending by several of the targeted groups. Some experts have said the justices should recuse themselves.

A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorial said recusal is not the answer because recusals could “paralyze” the court. “The real answer to this court’s chronic credibility problem is to reduce the influence of deep-pocketed outside groups,” it said, noting both the editorial board’s past support for a merit selection system while signaling interest in a 16-year term limit proposal for Supreme Court justices advanced last year by a State Bar panel (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Should Texas Judges Be Appointed?

Over 70 judicial candidates are running for election in Texas 0n November 4th, reports local Texas news station KSAT 12. However, according to Dr. Sharon Navarro, a political science professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, voters base their decisions on “name, ethnicity, gender or party,” not on qualification.

texas-star-with-ropeFormer Judge Victor Negron claims he lost election twice because he was a Republican in an unsympathetic county. He attributes the current system to a roll of the dice “to see if maybe the lever pullers will select your party for that year.”

Negron advocates a system whereby a nonpartisan panel screens judicial candidates for the governor to appoint, and then the judge would stand for retention after four years. In this way, well-qualified judges are kept in office, but they are still accountable to voters.

“Right now,” Negron says, “poorly informed voters voting along party lines can do bad things to good judges.”

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Justice Karmeier Won’t Recuse; Donations in His Election at Issue

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

Justice Lloyd Karmeier of the Illinois Supreme Court has rejected a request by lawyers for plaintiffs suing Philip Morris to recuse himself from participating in an appeal on grounds there was a public perception he is biased, the Madison-St. Clair Record reported.

In a rare, 16-page order, Justice Karmeier explained his decision not to recuse and he “addressed the plaintiffs’ allegations he voted to overturn the $10.1 billion verdict against the tobacco company in 2005, the year after it funneled donations to his campaign for the high court,” the newspaper said. Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

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Marriage Equality Ruling Ahead? Supreme Court in Spotlight

111002075249-supreme-court-building-story-topAs the U.S. Supreme Court justices launched their new term with a private conference this week, they were the subject of attention on many news media fronts, with the issue of marriage for same-sex couples grabbing perhaps the highest profile.

A New York Times article was headlined, “Justices Embark on Road to a Ruling on Same-Sex Marriage,” and it suggested it is highly like the court will decide the issue one way or another by next June. The court could announce as early as this week which, if any, of several petitions for appeal on the topic it will consider in its new term. On other fronts, there was attention to immediate action by the court, and controversy around some of its justices: Read more

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In Texas, a Frequently Tweeting Supreme Court Justice

don-willettJustice Don Willett of the Texas Supreme Court has an unusual distinction, according to a New York Times commentary. He has dashed off more than 12,800 tweets since he joined Twitter in 2009. And that, he says, makes him “probably the most avid judicial tweeter in America — which is like being the tallest munchkin in Oz.”

He is down-home in many of the tweets, self-deprecating, and careful to avoid discussion of any legal issues that might surface in his courtroom. He finds tweeting a valuable way to reach out to constituents in a state where voters elect their judges.

“He calls it ‘political malpractice’ not to make use of social media,” the commentary said. “Justice Willett also noted that the American Bar Association’s ethical guidelines approve of the ‘judicious’ use of social media in judicial elections as ‘a valuable tool for public outreach.’ (The wisdom of having an elected judiciary is, of course, another matter.)” Read more

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