Happy Anniversary to Our Female Supreme Court Justices!

ladiesofthecourt2This is an important week for U.S. Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who “will celebrate the anniversaries of their entrance onto the highest court in the land,” reported Huffington Post. They were all confirmed as Justices during the first week of August.

Justice Kagan, the youngest one on the court, will be celebrating five years as Supreme Court Justice on Wednesday .”It’s a very cool thing to be a smart girl, as opposed to some other, different kind. And I think that made a great deal of difference to me growing up and in my life afterward,” Kagan told NPR during her tenure as U.S. solicitor general.


Confrontation Erupts Over Judicial Nominations

Confirmation Hearings For Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor ContinueSen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) are sparring over the pace of judicial confirmations, reported Politico. The confrontation unfolded on Thursday after Grassley blocked the confirmation of three judicial nominees that, according to The Hill, Schumer wanted confirmed.

The New York Democrat complained about the judicial vacancy rate in the U.S. that is at 10%, and the 28 districts that are in a state of “judicial emergency,” mentions Politico. He also called it a “disgrace” that the new Republican-led Senate has only confirmed five federal judges so far, comparing that pace to the confirmation rate of the Democratic-led Senate under President George W. Bush, which at the same point in President Bush’s second term had confirmed 25 judges.

Grassley shot back that the statistics are misleading, arguing that “we’d be roughly at the same pace we were for judicial confirmations this year compared to 2007,″ if 11 judicial confirmations that took place during last year’s lame duck session had been scheduled for this year instead.

GOP leaders will not hold scheduled votes on judicial nominees until at least September, he said.

Meanwhile, President Obama has nominated four Pennsylvania judges to fill federal bench vacancies, reported Legal Intelligencer.

Opinion: Politicized Courts

In a column for the Greensboro News and Record’s Greensboro.com news website, Doug Clark laments the politicization of courts at the federal and state levels. “The courts have been in the political cross hairs for a long time,” he writes, adding that current political attacks and manipulation aimed at courts are doing little to improve their standing in public opinion.

Noting Sen. Ted Cruz’s accusation of “liberal judicial activism” following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality, Clark writes that “Opinions about the courts often bounce around, depending on the latest big decision. ” He maintains that Cruz’s idea is unlikely to gain traction, since  the founders intended courts to be apolitical.

Yet despite this intention of the founders, Clark says, North Carolina’s legislature successfully adopted a change in its court structure that was tagged as political at the outset. The state adopted an option for Supreme Court retention elections, even though “Democrats in the legislature voted against this change, smelling a political rat.” Clark goes on to observe that the switch appears most likely to benefit an incumbent Republican justice, whose continued presence on the bench would  maintain Republicans’ 4-3 majority.  Yet he also expresses hope that retention elections may prove less politicized than the contested elections currently in place for justices’ initial selection to the bench.

“Justices should not be accountable only to those willing to spend money to elect or retain them,” Clark writes, although in the current political climate, cynicism about courts appears to be widespread.

Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • For the first time since 1993, an independent candidate for a PA Supreme Court vacancy “might make the election ballot,” according to Politics PA.  He has now gathered more supporters than what he actually needs to make it to the Nov. 3 ballot, reported to the same source.
  • Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate JoAnne F. Kloppenburg states during her campaign “how important it is that we keep our courts independent and non-partial,” reported Pierce Country Herald.  “Partisan and special interest groups are intruding and trying to influence judicial elections,” she stated.

Watchdog Group Accuses Moore of Judicial Ethics Violations

Chief Justice Roy Moore
AL Chief Justice Roy Moore

The Southern Poverty Law Center accused  Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore on Wednesday of violating judicial ethics through his public criticisms on the Obergefell decision, reported Associated Press.

Earlier this year, the SPLC had filed a complaint against Moore after he advised judges in Alabama not to grant marriage licenses to same sex couples, mentioned the same source. Moore argued probate judges were “part of an independent judicial branch” and “not bound by a federal judge’s order overturning Alabama’s  ban on gay marriage.”

Now, the SPLC has filed a supplement to its complaint, contending that Moore has committed ethics violations by “improperly commenting on pending cases” and “saying that he couldn’t accept the gay marriage ruling as binding precedent and would recuse himself in future cases.”

The complaint states that Moore’s “open and blatant disregard for judicial ethics” makes him “unfit to be judge.”

“If Chief Justice Moore wants to make political speeches or be an activist in opposition to same-sex marriage, he is free to do so, but he cannot simultaneously hold his current position on the Alabama Supreme Court,” SPLC President Richard Cohen wrote in the complaint.

Moore did not comment on the filing.



Grassley: The Supreme Court is ‘Like a River Flooding its Banks’

Confirmation Hearings For Supreme Court Nominee Sonia Sotomayor ContinueThe chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee criticized important U.S. Supreme Court decisions from this past term on Tuesday. According to Legal Times, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa stated that the votes of certain justices “give rise to an appearance that their loyalties are to each other and to their preferred principles and policies, rather than to the Constitution.”

“The Supreme Court, like a river flooding its banks, is not staying within its proper channel, I strongly encourage all justices of the court to exercise the self-restraint that the Constitution demands and the Framers ultimately anticipated,” he said, specifically referring to cases King v. Burwell, Obergefell v. Hodges, and Walker v. Texas Division, Sons of Confederate Veterans. 

On these cases, according to Grassley, “liberal justices” have gotten their way because Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Justice Clarence Thomas have “voted with the liberals in at least two close, significant cases.”

Grassley, “didn’t offer any proposals during his critique of the high court,” reported Legal Times.


Judicial Diversity to Make Gains in the States

Minnesota_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005Gov. Mark Dayton of Minnesota acknowledged that diversity on the bench is an important factor, as he prepared to choose from among three  women recommended for an open seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court, according to Twin Cities.

These three finalists are Appeals Court Judge Margaret Chutich, Appeals Court Judge Natalie Hudson and Minneapolis City Attorney Susan Segal. They were recommended by the state’s Commission on Judicial Elections. Although Dayton “isn’t required to pick one of the three names the selection committee forwarded to him,” he has used the Commission’s suggestions “as his guide in past appointments,” reported the same source.

If Dayton selects one of the women, two out of seven members of the Minnesota Supreme Court would be female.  He said he was conscious of “the fact that when Justice Wright departs there will be only one woman.” Justice Wright has been nominated for a federal judgeship.

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe named Judge Jane Marum Roush to the state Supreme Court, according to Augusta Free Press. Justice at Stake advocates for diversity as an essential element of a fair and impartial court system.

Florida Forces Unite for Diversity

Florida_quarter,_reverse_side,_2004Several black bar groups in South Florida have joined forces to form a judicial diversity initiative to get more African-American judges appointed to federal and state judgeships, as reported by Daily Business Review.

Loreal Arscott, president of the Gwen S. Cherry association, pointed out that these organizations “began to flesh out the issue to find out why African-Americans are not represented in proportion to the population” in the judiciary. “The top priority is to get a black woman on the Miami-Dade circuit bench, where all 10 black judges—only two of whom are women—sit in county court,” Daily Business Review mentioned.

The group sat in on Judicial Nomination Committee interviews after the resignation of Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria Sigler, where they discovered that there is also a “lack of diversity on the JNCs themselves,” adding another item to their list of issues to address.

Ruby Green, president of the T.J. Reddick Bar Association in Fort Lauderdale highlighted that they want to make sure they encourage people of color to apply for these seats, considering there’s a “vibe that’s put off already on who is going to be picked by the governor,” that has kept them from doing so.

The organizations involved in the effort are the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association, Gwen S. Cherry Black Women Lawyers Association, Caribbean Bar Association, Haitian Lawyers Association, T.J. Reddick Bar Association and F. Malcolm Cunningham Sr. Bar Association.  Justice at Stake is an active advocate for diversity on the bench:  read more here http://gavelgrab.org/?cat=19



From Foes to Friends: Red Wing and Vander Plaats

Iowa’s Bob Vander Plaats, President and Chief Executive Director of The Family Leader and Donna Red Wing, Executive Director of One Iowa have buried the hatchet, reports  The Washington Post.

Red Wing and Vander Plaats found themselves on opposite sides of a divisive debate over the courts and marriage equality when the latter “led a successful campaign to remove three state judges responsible for the 2009 Iowa gay marriage ruling,” according to the Post.  Red Wing, who is an advocate for LGBT rights, had called him “bigoted” and “cruel,” while he had called her marriage “unnatural.”

But following the death of a good friend, Red Wing promised to “try to honor that friend by making peace with her biggest nemesis. So she asked Vander Plaats to coffee,” noted the Post. “They agreed to coffee again. Then again.”

After SCOTUS’s same sex marriage decision, the Post reports, the two were “crossing paths between dueling interviews at a local TV station studio, they locked eyes. And then they hugged.” They also appeared together at a lunch organized by a local civil group, where they joked together and talked to the audience about trying to understand each other’s different views.

“I actually like Bob Vander Plaats,” Red Wing said at the lunch. “I love Donna,” Vander Plaats responded.


Gov. Mark Dayton: ‘I’m conscious of the diversity factor’

Ethnic and gender diversity are factors Gov. Mark Dayton will take into consideration to fill two upcoming vacant seats on the Minnesota Supreme Court, reported the Associated Press.

“I’m conscious of the diversity factor,” Dayton told reporters at a national gathering of American Indian tribal leaders. “I’m also conscious that when Justice Wright departs there will be only one woman, the chief justice at that point. That’s also a consideration.”

AP also reported that the two departing justices, Alan Page and Wilhelmina Wright, are the court’s sole African Americans.  According to the same source, the application period closed yesterday for Justice Page’s seat.

Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.