The Associated Press summed up the high court’s reasoning this way: “[T]he court said Kansas’ poor school districts were harmed when the state made the decision to cut certain payments when tax revenues declined during the Great Recession.”
In its unanimous opinion, the Supreme Court instructed the trial court to ensure that school funding was equitable in districts across the state. It asked the court to determine “promptly” an adequate level of funding, and established a deadline of July 1 for lawmakers to replenish two funds that are intended to help poorer school districts, through support for their capital improvements and general operations. Read more
The U.S. Senate’s blocking at least temporarily the nomination of Debo Adegbile, a respected civil rights lawyer, to a top Justice Department post (see Gavel Grab) has big implications for defenders of fair and impartial courts, Justice at Stake’s Praveen Fernandes said in an interview available on YouTube.
Because some senators voiced opposition based on Adegbile’s having represented a defendant convicted of killing a police officer, such concerns could spill over to other lawyers and lead to their reticence to handle cases of accused criminals, said Fernandes, who is JAS director of federal affairs and diversity initiatives.
“To the extent that people, lawyers, are being penalized for their representation of criminal defendants, there’s a real concern in the fair courts community that this will lead to bright lawyers avoiding representing criminal defendants,” Fernandes said. Read more
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- A Hawaii state Senate committee unanimously recommended confirmation of Michael Wilson to the Hawaii Supreme Court, the same week that the Hawaii State Bar Association was reported to have found him “unqualified” for the job, according to the Star-Advertiser.
- Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, reported, “Alabama: bill for judicial recusal due to campaign contributions clears first legislative hurdle but won’t apply to some lower court races.” For background see Gavel Grab.
- Gail Collins’s opinion column in the New York Times asked whether such people as the Koch brothers who spend massive sums on political efforts ought to be called “oligarchs.” She quoted Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice, a JAS partner organization, as saying, “The question we’re asking is: who’s going to fill the oligarch vacuum?”
“[I]t’s for the best” that a set of proposals to reshape Oklahoma’s judiciary, submitted in the legislature by then-House Speaker T.W. Shannon, have died in committee, a Tulsa World editorial said.
Shannon sponsored the legislation in response to state Supreme Court rulings that found parts of Shannon’s top legislative achievements unconstitutional. His proposals that recently died included a 12-year term limit for some judges, mandatory retirement for judges at age 75 and changes to the way judicial nominees are selected. Shannon has departed the legislature.
“Changes to our form of government on this scale shouldn’t be made in hasty reaction to events. It’s a variation of the old theme that hard cases make bad law. Reshaping our form of government calls for deliberation and consensus both of which were missing from the effort,” the editorial said.
A lawsuit under way in Illinois contends that State Farm, the insurance company, funded a multimillion-dollar campaign a decade ago to elect a state Supreme Court justice. A publication that has followed the lawsuit says the justice, Lloyd Karmeier, will decide soon whether to seek retention this year, and the litigation reflects how “one of his most controversial cases just won’t stay dead.”
The Madison-St. Clair Record has an article about the lawsuit, Hale v. State Farm, that is headlined, “Lack of clear rules for recusal underpins high stakes case against State Farm.” Last summer, the Center for American Progress issued a lengthy report about the litigation and the underlying issues, entitled “Dodging a Billion-Dollar Verdict.”
As Gavel Grab mentioned in a 2011 article about a related legal proceeding, then-circuit Judge Karmeier defeated Appellate Judge Gordon Maag in the 2004 Illinois election, when $9.3 million was raised in the most expensive state judicial campaign in U.S. history. Justice Karmeier later refused to recuse himself from hearing an appeal in a class-action lawsuit, Avery v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Ins. Co., despite questions raised that campaign backing from State Farm could taint his impartiality. Justice Karmeier voted in the majority to overturn a $1 billion award against the insurer. Read more
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate blocked at least temporarily the nomination of Debo Adegbile, a respected civil rights lawyer, to a top Justice Department job; opponents focused on Adegbile’s having represented the convicted murderer of a police officer and having helped save him from the death penalty.
The procedural vote, in which a handful of Democrats joined Republicans critical of Adegbile, immediately raised questions for some analysts and advocates. These questions included how Adegbile’s legal work on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal differed from U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts’s work as a private attorney on behalf of death-row inmate John Ferguson, and how it reflected on the important work of lawyers who agree to defend accused criminals in unpopular cases.
“Some have called Mr. Adegbile a cop-killer advocate.’ Another word for that might be ‘lawyer,’” Jesse Wegman wrote in a New York Times blog. “In representing people like John Ferguson and Mumia Abu-Jamal, Chief Justice Roberts and Mr. Adegbile were doing what lawyers everywhere are trained to do. Particularly in death-penalty cases, it is critical to ensure that a defendant has adequate representation and that his trial, conviction and sentence do not violate the Constitution.”
What doesn’t make sense here? A Talking Points Memo blog reports that the Senate confirmed Pedro A. Delgado Hernandez of Puerto Rico for a federal district court judgeship by a 98-0 vote on Wednesday — the same day that 41 Republicans had voted earlier to filibuster his nomination by blocking an up-or-down vote.
The vote totals suggest that Republicans who sought at one point in the day to block the judicial nomination did a turnabout when it came to a final vote on confirming the nominee. Talking Points Memo blogger Sahil Kapur remarked only, “The post-nuclear Senate is a strange place.”
Other analysts have written recently (see Gavel Grab) that Senate Republicans are using a variety of procedural tools to try to obstruct judicial nominees, now that Senate Democrats have changed the rules to make filibusters of most judicial nominees much harder or even impossible. The rules change was so controversial it was dubbed the “nuclear option.” Read more
In Kansas, where tensions between state legislators and the state Supreme Court have been noted (see Gavel Grab), the state Senate was to consider on Thursday a bill to increase funding for Kansas courts, as long as the state Supreme Court doesn’t strike down any portion of the bill if it became law.
Parts of the legislation would allow local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission; and take away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court and Court of Appeals judges.
The legislation was reported by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. The National Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
The Iowa Senate has passed legislation removing fees for people with limited English proficiency to use court interpreters and translators.
Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, said the legislation now is before a state House committee. It requires that the judiciary pay for the interpreters and translators used in court proceedings.
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- At a Democratic fundraiser, President Obama said that nominations to the U.S. Supreme Court are among reasons this year’s mid-term elections are important, according to the Blog of Legal Times.
- Michael Wilson, nominated by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie for the state Supreme Court, received an “unqualified” rating from the Hawaii State Bar Association, according to HawaiiNewsNow.com.
- Pennsylvania State Supreme Court Justice Seamus P. McCaffery and his wife, Lise Rapaport, are preparing to sue the Philadelphia Inquirer for libel, Newsworks reported. For background, see Gavel Grab.
- Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who is Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake, was the subject of a Los Angeles Downtown News article entitled, “From Supreme Court Justice to Video Gamer.”