Gavel Grab

Two Kansas Justices Face Anti-Retention Effort Over Ruling

Justice Rosen

Justice Rosen

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider throwing out a Kansas Supreme Court ruling that struck down death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing (see Gavel Grab).

Petitions to reinstate death penalties for Jonathan and Reginald Carr were filed with the nation’s highest court this week, according to the Wichita Eagle. The state Supreme Court’s voiding three of each man’s four capital murder convictions generated controversy, and now, some of the victims’ kin have created an organization devoted to defeating in November two of the justices who participated in the ruling. The group is called Kansans for Justice.

Justice Johnson

Justice Johnson

Only Justices Lee Johnson and Eric Rosen, of the court’s seven members, are on the retention (up-or-down) ballot, according to a different Wichita Eagle article. 

Mark Befort, brother of one of the victims, told the newspaper of the devastating pain his family suffered in both the crime spree and through re-living it when the defendants were tried in court. He said the state’s highest court “has voted to either eliminate these verdicts or force all of the family members and surviving victims to have to once again re-live those crimes in court, or see these guilty verdicts erased. Read more

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Six-Figure Sum to Oust Local Judge: Who’s the Real Source?

Money in handWhen six-figure sums suddenly flow from Washington, D.C. into a once-obscure lower-court judicial race, journalists and others typically begin hunting for the source.

That’s exactly what a Talking Points Memo blog post undertakes regarding $200,000 pumped into a Cole County, Missouri Circuit Court contest by the Republican State Leadership Committee, a national partisan organization (see Gavel Grab) backing a Republican candidate seeking to defeat a Democratic incumbent. The TPM post also quotes Justice at Stake about the unusual race. Read more

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Supreme Court Case: How to Balance Free Speech, Judicial Ethics

supreme_court_building_515The Supreme Court’s agreeing to consider a former judicial candidate’s challenge of her reprimand in Florida, for personally soliciting campaign donations in violation of a judicial ethics rule (see Gavel Grab), is getting increased attention.

The court’s taking up Williams-Yulee vs. The Florida Bar has helped place Lanell Williams-Yulee in a “controversy that pits democracy and free speech against judicial ethics and due process,” Mark Joseph Stern writes at Slate. 

Stern’s judgment of where the high court will end up is summed up in the commentary’s headline: “Justice for Sale: The Supreme Court is poised to make judicial elections even more corrupt.” Read more

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Crossfire in Commentaries Over Alaska Judicial Council

Alaska-quarterFrom an op-ed critical of the Alaska Judicial Council and a rebuttal by a council defender, you can learn about controversy over a nonpartisan entity established at Alaska’s statehood to evaluate judicial candidates within a merit-based selection system.

John Harmon, an Anchorage educator and a former Fortune 500 corporate attorney, wrote recently in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, “Alaska promotes its judicial system as ‘merit’ based, but the actions seen from the Council appear to be those of partisan politics.”

This week Barbara Hood, a retired attorney and a founding board member of Justice Not Politics Alaska, wrote a Valley Frontiersman reply asserting that the council is doing its job well. “In recent years, members of Alaska’s judiciary have come under attack by political groups with agendas,” she said. “Now the same special interest groups seek to reshape our justice system by targeting the council itself.” Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Articles in Huffington Post and Bloomberg View examine what might happen to President Obama’s judicial nominees if Republicans take over the U.S. Senate after the November midterm election.
  • Regarding Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Seamus McCaffery and Chief Justice Ronald Castille, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “McCaffery apologizes for porn e-mail, accuses Castille of ‘cooked-up controversy.’”
  • Judge Tracie Hunter, a suspended juvenile court judge in Ohio, was convicted by a jury of a charge of having unlawful interest in a public contract, according to USA Today.
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Commentary: Amendment 3 ‘Looks Like a Partisan Power Grab’

florida-state-flagAdd Paula Dockery, a columnist and former Republican member of the Florida legislature, to critics calling Amendment 3 on the Florida ballot this fall a bid to enable political court-packing.

At Florida Today, Dockery rips into the proposed constitutional amendment to allow an outgoing governor certain prospective appointments of judges, calling it “an unnecessary and divisive move that looks like a partisan power grab intended to stack the court.” The measure was pushed by Republicans in the state legislature.

“While legislative and governor races are expected to be highly partisan, voters correctly expect the judicial branch to be nonpartisan,” Dockery explains. “Justice for all requires justice to be blind.”

“Regardless of who is governor, the incoming governor should have the responsibility of judicial appointments and should be held accountable for his or her choices. How can you hold someone accountable who has left office?” Read more

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Amendment 2 Vote: Tweak to Judicial Selection, or ‘Radical Change’?

Nashville Public Radio offers one of the most compelling headlines so far in media reporting on proposed Amendment 2: “Tennessee Voters Choose Between Tweaking Judicial Selection Or Setting Stage For Radical Change.”

The proposed constitutional amendment would change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee by adding a requirement for legislative confirmation after the governor makes an appointment. A judge seeking a new term still would run in a retention (up-or-down) election. Read more

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On Amendment 3: ‘Future of the Florida Supreme Court at Stake’

FloridaSupremeCourt

Amendment 3 is “a bizarre ‘solution’ searching for a non-existent problem,” a Sarasota Herald-Tribune editorial quotes former state Supreme Court Justice Harry Lee Anstead as saying. (For background on the proposed constitutional amendment regarding judicial appointments, see Gavel Grab.)

The editorial cites a Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion in 2006 stating that the terms of judges unable to stand for retention will expire in January following the general election. This places the timeline for replacement appointments firmly in the jurisdiction of the incoming governor if one is newly elected, according to the editorial. Without any actual “confusion over the expiration of judicial terms,” the editorial recommends a “no” vote on the amendment.

WTSP 10 News reports that Republicans are calling the amendment necessary to avert a potential constitutional crisis, while Democrats are calling it “an attempted court-packing power grab.” A WTXL TV report about the amendment quoted former state Sen. Alex Villalobos as saying, “We think that this is politicizing the way that the court works.” Villalobos, a board member of Justice at Stake, did not voice a position as a JAS board member.

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Veteran Analyst Ornstein Decries ‘Auctioning of the Judicial System’

citizens-unitedTracing deep-pocketed special interest and partisan spending in state supreme court elections this year, veteran political analyst Norm Ornstein condemns what he labels dramatic changes to judicial elections in the post-Citizens United era.

At The Atlantic, Ornstein’s commentary has the headline, “Courting Corruption: The Auctioning of the Judicial System,” and a sub-headline, “Don’t believe the Citizens United pollyannas. Watching money flooding into elections for judges’ seat shows how dangerous unregulated campaigns can be.”

Ornstein focuses on an explosion of spending — especially from outside groups — in the North Carolina Supreme Court primary (see Gavel Grab) and Tennessee Supreme Court retention election (see Gavel Grab) in building an argument that  the “worst of the new world of campaign finance post-Citizens United” is emerging in judicial elections.

Ornstein writes that “the concerted efforts by activist James Bopp to go state by state and remove all restrictions on how judicial elections are run—making them just like political campaigns—combined with the effective elimination of boundaries on funding and the blockage of disclosure, have dramatically changed judicial elections.” Read more

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Article: Business Community Strongly Favors Amendment 2

Screen-Shot-2014-10-09-at-5.32.42-PMProposed Amendment 2, changing the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee, would help ensure a strong judiciary and the kind of stability that businesses seek, two leading advocates of the ballot measure said this week.

A blog of the Memphis Business Journal reported on the position staked out by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, and it went on to state, “The business community is overwhelmingly in favor of the amendment, arguing it will avoid costly contested judicial elections that could lead to partiality and unpredictability on the state’s highest courts.”

As debate continued over the proposal, an editorial in The Tennessean urged a no vote, contending that voters should signal that appellate judges “shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state.” Read more

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