Judge Grants Floridians Another Week to Register to Vote

voter-registrationJUDGE EXTENDS VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE: The rising role of lower federal courts in deciding voting law challenges has been mentioned by Gavel Grab, and now a federal district judge in Florida has decided a different type of voting issue: He extended until Oct. 18 a deadline for people to register to vote because of the harm caused by Hurricane Matthew.

District Judge Mark E. Walker agreed on Wednesday to the extension, according to CNN. “We’ll now be able to make up for lost time and help register people whose lives were disrupted by the storm,” said Pamela Goodman, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida. “Our goal is to help every Floridian register, vote, and be heard, and we’re grateful that the storm did not silence their voices.”

SUPREME COURT TO HEAR LAWSUIT AGAINST ASHCROFT: The Washington Post reported, “The Supreme Court on Tuesday said it would consider a long-running lawsuit against former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other top officials filed by immigrants who say they were racially profiled and illegally detained after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.”

Does racial bias trump jury room secrecy? The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Tuesday in Pena-Rodriguez v. Colorado, a case that raises the issue. Lawyers for a defendant in a sexual assault trial contend his rights to an impartial jury were violated after one juror told two others, “I think he did it because he’s Mexican and Mexican men take whatever they want.” You can learn more from a Reuters article or from a blog of our sister organization, Alliance for Justice.

DOING THE MATH ON THE GARLAND NOMINATION: ThinkProgress has come up with a new way of doing the math on the long-stalled nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. It reported, “15 Republican senators openly oppose [Donald] Trump. 14 are blocking a Supreme Court nominee for him anyway.”

With one seat vacant, meanwhile, the “justices are chugging along in the slow lane,” according to The Economist. A Chicago Sun-Times editorial documented the “harm of [the] short-handed court,” and said it “hobbles along.”

Court Rejects Challenge to Ohio Judicial Election Law

Leaving the political affiliations of judicial candidates off the general election ballot in Ohio is constitutionally sound, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled, according to The Toledo Blade.

“The burden on the plaintiffs’ First and Fourteenth Amendment rights is minimal because political parties and judicial candidates remain free to provide, and voters remain free to receive, a plethora of information regarding whether a given candidate affiliates with or is endorsed by a particular political party,” U.S. Circuit Judge John Rogers said for a three-judge panel, according to Courthouse News Service. (more…)

Essay Touches on Higher Reversal Rate for Black U.S. Judges

At a self-described daily digital magazine called OZY, Meghan Walsh writes an intriguing short piece about race and our courts that’s headlined, “The Justice Issue Lurking Behind the Bench.”

Drawing on Harvard Professor Maya Sen’s research about federal judges, Walsh writes, “The rulings of black judges are 10 percent more likely to be overturned than those of their white counterparts.”

Walsh seems cautious about jumping to conclusions: “Granted, this may, to some degree, be a statistical thing, and it’s not to say that appellate judges are bigots. It’s been well documented that this bench tends to be more conservative, while judges of color lean liberal, particularly on civil rights and discrimination matters. ‘It’s very hard to disentangle race and politics,’ Sen says. It’s also up to litigants to appeal, so it could be that lawyers are more eager to contest a ruling handed down by a minority justice, which further complicates things.”

Governor Wants Arizona Removed From U.S. Ninth Circuit

Gov. Ducey
Gov. Ducey

Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona, a Republican, wants his state removed from the jurisdiction of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, for reasons his staff says are not political. But an American Civil Liberties Union official called it “court shopping,” the Associated Press said.

Ducey said he’d like to see Arizona shifted to a circuit other than the San Francisco-based Ninth, or that another circuit should be created by Congress, because of high caseload in the Ninth, the large area it covers and a higher rate of rulings struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Republicans have made similar efforts in the past, sometimes complaining that the Ninth Circuit is too liberal in its decisions. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-California, believes this effort is politically driven, according to AP, and Dan Pochoda of the ACLU of Arizona said, “You talk about judge shopping, well, this is court shopping.”

Obama’s Impact on Federal Appeals Courts is Measured

President Obama has put his stamp on appointing judges to the federal appeals courts, as only one appellate nominee, Judge L. Felipe Restrepo, awaits a Senate confirmation vote, and a presidential election year likely will mean that is the last such vote.

This is part of the analysis coming from nomination-tracking expert Russell Wheeler of Brookings at its FixGov blog. Here are the numbers Wheeler gives about the change in the composition of the federal appeals courts under Obama:

“When Obama took office, Republican appointees held 56 percent of the 179 circuit judgeships, Democratic appointees 36 percent; eight percent were vacant. With Restrepo’s confirmation, Republican appointees will occupy 42 percent of the seats, Democratic appointees 53 percent, and five percent will be vacant.

“Courts with a majority of Democratic appointees have increased from one to nine and courts with a majority of Republican appointees have dropped from ten to four (two were even in 2009).”


High Caseload, Not Enough Judges, Means ‘Crisis Point’ in CA District

Chief U.S. District Judge Morrison England of the Eastern District of California says “we’re at a crisis point” because of a soaring caseload, a growing population, and not enough judges, according to KCRA.

Since 1978, the number of full-time judges on the court has held at six, although the region’s population has increased significantly. Nationwide, the average caseload per federal judge is 554 cases a year, compared to 962 in the Sacramento district.

The number of judges in the district would be doubled to 12 under a recommendation by the non-partisan Judicial Conference of the United States. Congress hasn’t passed that recommendation into law.


Report Looks at ‘Judicial Transparency’ and U.S. Appeals Judges

As part of a special report on judicial transparency, The National Law Journal says it found instances where groups that reimbursed a federal circuit judge’s travel costs also appeared before that judge in the next 18 months. Lawyers weren’t aware of the reimbursed expenses, yet they also did not think a conflict of interest was created, National Law Journal said.

The special report examines 257 financial reports submitted by federal appeals judges covering their activity in 2013. It makes the reports available to viewers. Other topical articles published in the special report include, “Judges’ Trips Reflect Gray Area in Ethics Rules” and “Judicial Disclosures: By The Numbers.”


Obama to Appeal Adverse Court Ruling on Immigration

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court-ordered hold on President Obama’s executive action to protect as many as five million immigrants in the United States from deportation. Today, the Obama administration said it will ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

In the three-judge panel’s 2-1 ruling on Monday, the court said there was not adequate public notice provided by the administration before attempts were made to revise U.S. enforcement policies after the president announced his executive action, according to The Washington Post. 

The New York Times said the president’s plan to request a Supreme Court hearing sets up  “another high-stakes legal contest in the nation’s highest court over the fate of one of the president’s signature achievements.”

Lawsuit Challenging KS Judiciary Defunding Law Now in U.S. Court

A challenge by four district court judges of a Kansas law threatening to defund the entire Kansas judiciary has been moved from state to federal court.

The Associated Press reported that Kansas moved the case, contending that the litigation constitutes a federal due process claim. The lawsuit is challenges a state law provision that critics say is the latest attack by elected Kansas officials on fair and impartial courts (see Gavel Grab).

Judicial Vacancy Epidemic Continues to Sweep Across the States

California and Texas are only two of many states impacted by a judicial vacancy epidemic that has struck the nation in recent years.

The Associated Press addresses the issue with an article titled, “Wheels of Justice Slow at Overloaded Federal Courts.” The AP cites the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on the rising delay in resolving civil and criminal cases because of judges’ ever-increasing workload.

The article says that the challenges are “particularly acute” in some federal courts where the judges deal with double the workload of the national average, like in the Eastern Districts of California and Texas.

Not only has the Eastern District of California had a judicial vacancy for almost three years, the article says, but the court has not had an increase in judges since 1978, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The AP reports that California’s Eastern District in Fresno is currently sustained by only one full-time district court judge, Lawrence O’Neill. The situation in the Eastern District of Texas is similar, the AP says.

According to the article, Judge O’Neill says, “We can slow things down because we simply can’t work any harder or faster… But the real important effect of that is people who need our help to move their lives forward are delayed.” 

Matt Menendez, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice finds the judicial vacancies that the federal courts are facing today to be “quite bad.” The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Legal scholars say, “Congress needs to fill judicial vacancies more quickly but also increase the number of judges in some districts — both issues that get bogged down in partisan political fights over judicial nominees,” according to the AP.