Gavel Grab

News Report: Florida Governor Appoints Few Black Judges

Gov. Scott

Gov. Scott

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is back in the media spotlight over his handling of diversity on the bench. A lengthy Miami Herald article says Scott has appointed fewer African-American judges than did either of his two predecessors during a corresponding time period.

“What I’m focused on is making sure that the people I appoint understand that there are three branches of government and that they don’t get to legislate,” said Scott, a Republican. “They don’t get to pass laws, just like I don’t get to pass laws.”

“He has no interest in diversity,” said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat and Legislative black caucus member. “He wants to stack the courts with people who think like him. It’s that corporate mentality that he brought to the governor’s office.” Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • After hearing oral arguments Tuesday in a nationally watched ballot dispute, the Kansas Supreme Court took the matter under advisement. “Kansas Judges Question Why Democrat Kept on Ballot,” the Associated Press reported.  
  • The campaign committee of Illinois Justice Lloyd Karmeier, who is seeking retention election this fall, has raised $39,000 in the past three weeks, the Madison-St. Clair Record said.
  • At The Daily Signal, Elizabeth Slattery wrote, “Obama’s Greatest Legacy: Remaking the Federal Courts.” See Gavel Grab for more.
  • Attorney Debo Adegbile has withdrawn his nomination to head the U.S. Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, McClatchy reported. A filibuster against his nomination had raised concerns in some quarters of an adverse impact on criminal defendants’ access to justice (see Gavel Grab).
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Now, Criticism of Tennessee High Court From a Leading Democrat

Slatery

Slatery

Once the Tennessee Supreme Court selected as attorney general the legal counsel to Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, it drew sharp criticism from a leading Democrat. That represented a shift from before last month’s election, when a leading Republican criticized three incumbent justices seeking retention.

After the high court announced on Monday its selection of Herbert Slatery as attorney general (see Gavel Grab), Democratic House Leader Craig Fitzhugh said the court had “capitulated to Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey and the very special interest groups that tried to replace our Justices just one short month ago.” Ramsey, a Republican, was in the forefront of the unsuccessful ouster effort, and he disparaged the court’s earlier pick of Bob Cooper as attorney general. Read more

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MT Rule Banning Partisan Judicial Endorsements is Defended

Six of Montana’s seven state Supreme Court justices are asking a federal judge to uphold a rule that they say helps keep politics out of the courthouse.

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A local candidate for Justice of the Peace recently sued to challenge a state rule that candidates for judgeships may not accept or seek partisan endorsements. In an amicus brief that was the subject of a Helena Independent Record article, the six justices ask a federal court to deny the request:

“We urge this court to acknowledge that regardless of what a political organization is allowed to do, a candidate for judicial office may and should be held to a standard commensurate with the dignity, gravity and optimal function of judicial office.” Read more

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Tennessee Supreme Court Picks Slatery as Attorney General

Slatery

Slatery

Herbert Slatery, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s legal counsel, was named state attorney general by the Tennessee Supreme Court on Monday.

Slatery was one of six finalists for the post. He will be Tennessee’s first Republican attorney general, according to the Associated Press.

Tennessee is the only state where the attorney general is named by the Supreme Court. With its action on Monday, the court denied a second eight-year term to incumbent Attorney General Bob Cooper, The Commercial Appeal noted; when three Democrat-appointed justices successfully ran for retention this year, their critics made Cooper’s record a centerpiece of the campaign to remove the justices. Read more

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In Six Years, President Has Reshaped Face of Appeals Courts

white-housePresident Obama has made his mark reshaping the federal circuit courts of appeals, where judges appointed by Democratic presidents now outnumber those appointed by Republicans by 95 to 77, the New York Times reports.

This represents a reversal of the majority on the appeals benches when Obama took office, and it was accelerated by the Senate’s changing its rules last year to eliminate the filibuster as a procedural weapon to fight confirmation of most judges. The article says the judicial appointments stand to affect Americans in many ways for many years, and stand out given gridlock in Congress on other fronts.

At the same time, Republicans have begun raising the issue of judicial selection as they campaign to try to wrest control of the Senate away from Democrats, the article says. Political battling over judicial nominations also caught attention in these other recent media reports: Read more

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Column Faults ‘Despicable’ Attack on Arkansas Courts

Arkansas_quarter_reverse_side_2003It is time for citizens who are concerned about protecting fair and impartial courts to stand up and denounce “vile smears” and other attacks on the courts, a Lambda Legal official warns in a column for SDGLN.com (San Diego Gay and Lesbian News).

The column by Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager for Lambda Legal, is headlined, “The despicable antigay attack on Arkansas’ courts.” Lesh criticizes a resolution by the Arkansas Legislative Council, submitted to the state Supreme Court, accusing a trial court judge of failing to uphold the state Constitution when he declared unconstitutional a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab for more).

“Attacks on our courts are outrageous and put our system of justice at risk, but we do not have to resign ourselves to the ‘new normal’ of a politicized judicial branch,” Lesh writes. Lambda Legal is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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JAS Report on Judicial Election Spending is Featured

A report by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice, two nonpartisan reform organizations, about judicial election spending so far in 2014 grabbed national exposure when it was carried by Legal Newsline. 

jas_logoAlready this year, more than $3.1 million has been spent on TV ads in state supreme court primaries and off-cycle elections, the groups said last week. Three states with off-cycle elections (Tennessee, Idaho, and Arkansas) saw greater spending than in their prior election cycles, while North Carolina saw record spending in its primary (more than $1.3 million).

In November, contested elections will be held for supreme courts in eight states and retention (up-or-down) elections will be held in 14 states. Legal Newsline is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform. The Brennan Center is a JAS partner organization.

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On 40th Anniversary, a Salute to Merit Selection in Arizona

1280px-Flag_of_Arizona.svgArizona marks the 40th anniversary this year of its adoption of merit selection for choosing appellate judges and Superior Court judges in its largest counties. In an Arizona Republic op-ed, Chief Justice Scott Bales says the system has “allowed Arizona’s judiciary to earn a national reputation for fairness, efficiency and innovation.”

The Chief Justice’s op-ed is largely explanatory about how merit selection works to seat well-qualified judges, and about the Judicial Performance Review system, established by voters in 1992, to which all merit-selected judges are subject. Justice Bales also writes of  high regard nationally and in the state for Arizona’s system: Read more

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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Washington Supreme Court said the legislature has failed to fully fund public education as required by a 2012 court order, and it found the legislature in contempt of court, according to a Q13 Fox report.
  • When the U.S. Senate killed last week a constitutional amendment to reverse Citizens United, it marked the partisan-driven death of a proposal to “take Big Money out of politics,” James Gaines wrote in a Reuters opinion.
  • Delaware Gov. Jack Markell is preparing to nominate a new state Supreme Court justice based on a list of four finalists recommended to him by a judicial nominating commission, the News Journal reported.
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