Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Federal Courts’ Category

Essay: What Happens if Constitutional Rights, Funding Cuts Collide?

A lot is at stake when federal courts face the impact of budget cuts on such promises made under the Constitution as the right to a speedy trial and to a lawyer, veteran legal journalist Lyle Denniston writes.

In a “Constitution Check” column that he writes for the National Constitution Center, Denniston tackles tough questions raised earlier this week in New York. A New York Times article (see Gavel Grab) said federal public defenders representing terror suspect Sulaiman Abu Ghaith cited furloughs in their office, as a result of across-the-board U.S. budget cuts, in asking a judge not to schedule an early trial.

The budget cuts are known as “sequestration” or the “sequester.” Denniston examines their context and offers, “[B]ecause of the way sequester works, the lack of money to finance Abu Ghaith’s defense does not appear to be unconstitutional. Congress has not told Judge [Lewis] Kaplan to deny access to a defense lawyer in that or any other case, and, indeed, Congress has not targeted the federal defender’s office in New York specifically for a cut that no other agency has to withstand.” Read more

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Grassley Would Cut Judgeships on Influential Appeals Court

Although there were some signs of bipartisanship when the Senate Judiciary Committee opened its hearing on a high-profile judicial nominee on Wednesday, the session quickly turned political, according to a Blog of Legal Times post.

While Sri Srinivasan, nominated for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was in the spotlight, the hearing gave way to partisan debate about the speed in which the Senate handles — or fails to handle — judicial nominations. In addition, Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa (photo) announced controversial legislation.

Grassley said he would trim the Washington, D.C.-based court from 11 judges to 8, and shift judgeships elsewhere, to courts that Grassley said are faced with higher caseloads. The D.C. Circuit is widely considered a stepping stone to the Supreme Court. It currently has seven judges and a majority appointed by Republican presidents; there are no Obama appointees on the court yet.

Grassley’s action, according to Blog of Legal Times, “underscored how, despite Srinivasan’s broad support and excellent legal pedigree, his nomination to the second highest court in the United States will have to navigate one of the most gridlocked parts of a gridlocked Senate.” Read more

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D.C. Area Federal Courthouses Struggle Under Budget Cuts

Integral individuals to federal courthouses in the Washington, D.C. region have been alerted that they may have to take more than a dozen furlough days in the upcoming months. Federal prosecutors, public defenders and U.S. marshals are all preparing to take unpaid leave due to across-the-board budget cuts known as sequestration, reports the Washington Post.

U.S. District Judge Royce C. Lamberth is considering closing the courthouse every other Friday starting April 26. He expressed uncertainty as to the duration of the scheduling changes.

D.C. Superior court spokeswoman Anita Jarman says that funding cuts will limit how often hallways and restrooms are cleaned, as well as when escalators can be fixed.

Federal public defenders may have to take up to 27 days of unpaid leave from now until September. “It’s tremendously demoralizing, even for people who are used to fighting against extraordinary odds,” said public defender for the Eastern District of Virginia, Michael S. Nachmanoff. “These cuts are devastating. At some point, the program can’t survive.” Read more

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For Judge Who Forwarded Racist E-Mail, Full Retirement Ahead

Senior Federal District Judge Richard Cebull, a Montanan who apologized for forwarding a racist and sexist e-mail about President Obama, has submitted a letter stating he will retire fully from the bench on May 3, according to Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

A special committee investigated both a complaint that Judge Cebull filed against himself and another, and submitted its report to the Judicial Council in December 2012, according to a statement by Judge Kozinski.

The Judicial Council issued an order and memorandum March 15. They are to be confidential during an appeal period, Judge Kozinski wrote.

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Federal Court Officials Announce Courthouse Closures and Furloughs

Federal courts all across the country are announcing that they will be furloughing employees and closing courthouses in the wake of across-the-board federal budget cuts earlier this year.

Courts in Colorado and other states are planning to close on Fridays from April 26 through September, according to the Blog of Legal Times. U.S. Chief District Judge Marcia Krieger of Colorado ordered “an end to hearings and trials in criminal cases” during those five months.

The article states that the full consequences of the $350 million cut to federal court funding are “still unknown.”

Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. has mentioned that Department of Justice employees may be furloughed, but he will not make a final decision on this until mid-April. Read more

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GMO Provision Hobbles Courts, Critics Contend

Justice at Stake has warned of the perils of court-stripping, whereby Congress takes away specific cases or types of cases from a court’s jurisdiction. Now, a new law has provoked criticism from food safety advocates over a provision that appears a cousin of court-stripping.

The following New York Daily News headline tried to capture the essence of the controversial provision: “Opponents of genetically modified organisms in food, or GMOs, rail against provision that would limit the courts’ ability to stop food producer Monsanto from growing crops later deemed potentially hazardous.”

In fact, the provision ties the hands of the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, according to public health lawyer Michele Simon. The Daily News quoted Simon blogging about the provision: “Without any hearings on the matter, the Senate included language that would require the U.S. Department of Agriculture to essentially ignore any court ruling that would otherwise halt the planting of new genetically-engineered crops.”

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Editorial: Terror Trial Rightly Belongs in Federal Court

The case of Sulaiman Abu Ghaith, a son-in-law of Osama Bin Laden who is charged with plotting terror against Americans, squarely belongs in federal court instead of before a military tribunal, a Santa Rosa (Ca.) Press-Democrat editorial declared.

While some lawmakers contend that he should face a military tribunal at Guantanamo Bay, the editorial said that “federal courts have ably handled hundreds of terrorism cases, safely and publicly, without compromising national security or creating a threat to public safety.”

The editorial also said that Mr. Ghaith is charged with conspiracy, which is not a war crime; that President Obama has not given up on plans to close Guantanamo; and that Mr. Ghaith would face a life term in prison if convicted in the federal court system, where he now faces charges. It concluded:

“Military tribunals and indefinite detentions at Guantanamo without any legal proceedings have damaged the United States’ reputation around the world. Trying this case in federal court would demonstrate the capability and legitimacy of the criminal justice system, reflecting more than two centuries of American legal traditions.” Read more

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US Judge: More Women Needed on the Federal Bench

While diversity on our federal bench has increased over the years, too few women hold federal judgeships,  Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana said at the Sixth Annual Women’s Conference this week.

Brown was appointed to the bench in 2011, becoming the first Africa-American woman federal judge in Louisiana, according to The Advocate.

During the conference, she said that only 30 percent of all federal district court judges are women. There are still some district courts where a woman has never served as a judge, she added.

Brown spoke about her desire to see our federal judiciary be more representative of the public. More women are becoming partners in law firms, and female students account for almost 50 percent of law school enrollment, she said.

She called her path to the federal bench “unconventional,” and said it took being flexible as well as creative to make it a reality. Brown said she stayed open-minded to new career opportunities which eventually led her to a federal judgeship in Louisiana.

“Only in this country could an African-American girl born to parents with no education … no where else could someone like me be provided an opportunity for so much success and accomplishment,” Brown said.

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U.S. Judge: Cuts ‘Strike at the Heart’ of Justice System

The federal courts cannot keep working at funding levels reduced by recent automatic cuts “without seriously compromising the Constitutional mission of the federal courts,” U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Julia Gibbons (photo) told the Judicial Conference.

“Reductions of this magnitude strike at the heart of our entire system of justice and spread throughout the country,” Judge Gibbons said, according to a Blog of Legal Times post. “The longer the sequestration stays in place, the more severe will be its impact on the courts and those who use them.” The automatic cuts that were triggered March 1 are called “sequestration.”

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Federal Courts Roll Back Hours, Employee Wages as Sequestration Hits

A U.S. Bankruptcy judge in Manhattan will cease holding after-hours hearings. Federal court personnel are facing furloughs. Civil cases will be postponed or delayed. These are just a few of the upcoming changes faced by federal courts as budget cuts known as “sequestration” take effect.

Under sequestration, about $332 million will be cut from the federal judiciary’s budget, according to a Bloomberg article. The cuts amount to 5 percent of the current budget, and may be in place through September 30 when the fiscal year ends, the article says.

A directive from the Administrative Office of the Courts explains that civil jury trials may be suspended during this time, and court security personnel will be drawn down.

“The immediate effects of sequestration will impact everything from the security at courthouses to the supervision of offenders,” said U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan, director of the AOC, in a statement. “Work that will allow the courts to operate more smoothly, and in most cases, save money, will either be delayed or worse – canceled.” Read more

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