Chief Justice O’Connor Touts Ohio Voter Education Website

A voter education website specifically for Ohio judicial elections will come online on Sept. 1, The Columbus Dispatch reports.

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor believes the website will improve voter turnout for these elections, the article explains. She offered the restrictions placed on judicial candidates as another explanation for low turnout, claiming the “whispered” campaigns are drowned out by the “shouting” of executive campaigns.

O’Connor has suggested other reforms, including moving judicial elections to odd-numbered years, and require candidates to accumulate more legal experience before running to be a judge.

Op-ed calls on Michigan to Reform Judicial Selection


Michigan Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly is returning to private practice less than five years after being elected to the Court. Jack Lessenberry, Michigan Radio’s political analyst, expressed concern over such resignations in a recent op-ed:

“To me, there’s something odd about that. Barring health or family reasons, I would think elected officials ought to feel an obligation to finish the term they asked the voters to give them. But resignations from the state’s highest court are fairly common, and what this means is that the governor will get to name a replacement for the third time in five years.”



Gov. Dayton Appoints Hudson to Minnesota Supreme Court

Judge Hudson
Judge Hudson

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton has appointed Court of Appeals Judge Natalie E. Hudson to replace Justice Alan Page on the state Supreme Court, the Minnesota Star Tribune reports. Thanking the governor on Tuesday, Hudson gave the following statement:

“I promise to do what I have always done as a judge, and that is to read the record carefully, read the briefs carefully, to listen carefully at oral argument, to be as prepared as I possibly can be and most of all to treat all of those that come before our court with the utmost respect and dignity that they deserve.”



Florida Representative: Subpoenas for Justices?

In the wake of a Florida Supreme Court ruling overturning new districts drawn by the state legislature, Republican Rep. Mike Hill has called for a meeting with justices to clarify the ruling. According to the Orlando Sentinel, if the justices decline the invitation, Hill suggests distributing subpoenas.

The 5-2 ruling said the legislature violated the Fair Districts amendment “by passing new congressional and state Senate districts supported by GOP consultants that favor the Republican Party,” the article explains, saying that the maps drawn were submitted by GOP consultants. Hill, on the other hand, contends that the maps supported by the court are those favored by Democrats.

Michigan Supreme Court Throws Out Mandatory Minimums

The Michigan Supreme Court restructured criminal sentencing this week in a landmark 5-2 ruling, Michigan Live reports.

The opinion, written by Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, says that “mandatory minimum sentencing violates the Sixth Amendment” when it increases sentencing beyond that contained in a jury verdict. The article explains that the case upheld a lower court sentence, but ruled that a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision “rendered parts of Michigan’s sentencing guidelines unconstitutional” because they infringe on the right to a trial by jury.


Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Politics PA reports that the largest teacher’s union in the state endorsed Judge Kevin Dougherty for Supreme Court. The election for three open seats on the court will take place in November.

Concern Over the Future of Tennessee’s High Court Grows

Tennessee Democrats responded Wednesday to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s stated partisan goals for the state Supreme Court, The Chattanoogan reports. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said that governors have followed a “long tradition of merit-based selection that has for decades made Tennessee Courts a model for non-partisan, fair-minded decision making.” He further explained:

“The Courts are not intended to be just another partisan arm of government.  Our judges have an independent duty to uphold the laws passed by the peoples’ representatives – a duty that transcends the judges’ personal political beliefs.  We have seen in Washington and in other states that infusing the judicial selection process with politics has led to charges of bias and in some cases even corruption – charges that have threatened to undermine the integrity of the judiciary.  We don’t need that sort of thing here.”

Stewart ended with a call to “Tennesseans of both parties” to demand a continued apolitical selection process. Gov. Haslam will have the opportunity to nominate a third justice to the state high court after Justice Gary Wade retires in September. See the Knoxville News Sentinel to learn more about Wade, and watch Gavel Grab for developments on the selection process.

Congressional Questions Highlight Bias Against Public Defenders

In an illuminating op-ed for the Huffington Post, Nan Aron, President of Alliance for Justice, outlines the importance of professional diversity in the judiciary, and the obstacles to achieving it. Only 14 percent of President Obama’s judicial nominees have been public defenders, and 3.2 percent have worked as civil rights lawyers. The professional discrepancy is blatant when compared with the 41 percent that have been prosecutors and the 72 percent who have worked as corporate attorneys.

Last week, Republican Senator Jeff Sessions’ line of questioning aimed at Paula Xinis highlighted the problem, Aron argues. Xinis, the nominee to the the District Court of Maryland, is a public defender and civil rights lawyer. Sessions’ “line of accusatory questions” suggested that her career path would make her biased to defendants on the bench. “The questions were absurd and unfounded,” Aron says, “but they could not be dismissed as such,” because they represent a much larger problem. Aron explains:


Justice’s Retirement Sparks Debate Over Potentially Politicized Court

Lt. Gov. Ramsey

In the wake of Justice Gary Wade’s retirement announcement, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey “congratulated the justice he’d previously tried to unseat during a contentious retention campaign in the fall,” The Tennessean reports. In his statement, Ramsey said he “look[s] forward to this historic opportunity to give Tennessee its first ever Republican Supreme Court majority.”

Legal experts in the state disagree on how Justice Wade’s replacement may affect the court. Former Justice William Koch Jr. contends that Gov. Haslam’s choice will have little impact on decisions. Paraphrasing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, he commented that “a professional, wise Republican and a professional, wise Democrat more often than not land at the same place.”


Tennessee Lawmakers Untangle New Judicial Selection Law

Justice Gary Wade
Justice Gary Wade

The impending retirement of Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Gary Wade is highlighting confusion about the new process of judicial selection in the state. Last year, voters approved Amendment 2, which constitutionally altered the process. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel, vague language in the law is causing confusion over when the new nominee will face a retention election – in 2016 or 2022.

Under the old law, a newly appointed judge would be approved or rejected by voters in the next state wide August election – no more than two years after his or her nomination. State Sen. Brian Kelsey, the chief legislative drafter of the amendment, says the nominee should stand in 2022 because he will be taking over a nearly complete term. Others disagree, including Nashville lawyer Lee Barfield, who, according to the article, “played a lead role in the Yes on 2 campaign in support of the judicial amendment.” At the time he commented on this scenario: