Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘JAS Partner News’ Category

How Politicians are Toiling to Influence Some Southern Courts

Efforts are away across the South to tighten conservatives’ influence on a number of state supreme courts, Alex Kotch writes in Facing South, a publication of the Institute for Southern Studies.

The efforts are carried out “often in response to unpopular decisions by the courts or a fairly explicit ideological agenda to impact how courts are deciding cases,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Frequent readers of Gavel Grab will be familiar with the initiatives. “Republican lawmakers are changing election laws, expanding the number of justices, adding term limits, and challenging appointments to create high courts more likely to uphold their legislation,” Kotch writes. He mentions activity in these states specifically: North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. He also mentions outside group spending in the Arkansas Supreme Court election this week.

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MO Proposal Would Add New Grounds for Impeaching Judges

Under a proposed constitutional amendment introduced in Missouri, judges could be impeached if they “make certain decisions that fail to interpret the state’s constitution as originally understood by voters,” according to Gavel to Gavel.

Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, and it tracks legislation introduced in the states. Its article says the Missouri proposal provides for a three-step system for judicial decisions and threatens with impeachment any judge who fails to follow the three-step test.

A bill summary available at the state Senate’s website says the measure “delineates procedures a court must follow when assessing a claim against a government entity, that such entity has enforced a law or policy that might limit a person’s exercise of a right or freedom enumerated by the Missouri Constitution or penalize a person for exercising such right or freedom.” Read more

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Mediator Brought in to Eakin Ethics Proceedings

A tribunal considering charges of ethics violations against Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin (see Gavel Grab) has brought in a veteran lawyer, Richard Sprague, to explore a negotiated agreement that could mean Eakin would not be tried publicly.

The Philadelphia Inquirer broke the news, and it also reported there was criticism of the latest development. “The public is entitled to hear the facts and the arguments discused openly,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. “. . .Public confidence in the integrity of the courts will not be strengthened by a private deal.”

Attorney General Kathleen Kane also criticized the action, according to a subsequent Philadelphia Inquirer article. A commentary by Dave Davies at was headlined, “Porngate: old boys network to the rescue.”

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Legislatures Asked to Weigh Restrictions on Use of Foreign Law

Efforts to restrict Islamic, foreign, or international law, in our courts continue on a widespread basis, and in West Virginia, proposed legislation threatens impeachment of a judge found to have violated such a restriction.

That news comes from Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. “A raft of new legislation” has been introduced in 12 states this year, Gavel to Gavel reports, and some of the proposals continue to specifically ban use of sharia in state courts.

The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization. You can learn more about issues around impeachment of judges from the JAS web page on the topic.

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In Pennsylvania, JAS Partner Decries ‘Scandal After Scandal’

law-cash-21816475While spending in Pennsylvania judicial elections has surged, citizens may be dismayed by the result, a prominent defender of fair and impartial courts says in a news article that also cited Justice at Stake.

“What’s happened is, even after this ever-increasing amount of money spent, what have Pennsylvanians gotten?” said Lynn Marks, executive director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, according to WITF.

“They’ve gotten scandal after scandal, and jurists’ campaign coffers are flowing from the very same lawyers and litigants that will appear before them.” At least $15.9 million was spent in the last Pennsylvania Supreme Court election before Election Day, the article noted, citing JAS and the Brennan Center for Justice as its source; the spending totals last year broke the previous documented record for any supreme court race in the nation. Read more

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Commentary: Courts in PA Suffer ‘Glaring Lack of Diversity’

A recent scandal involving Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Michael Eakin and offensive emails illustrates a “glaring lack of diversity” in both the state and federal courts in Pennsylvania that urgently needs fixing, write the authors of a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed.

“Diversify Pennsylvania’s court system,” urges the headline of the commentary by Anisha Singh of the Center for American Progress and Jodi Hirsh of Why Courts Matter Pennsylvania. They provide the following summary about the lack of diversity on the bench:

“Of 27 appellate state court judges, only one is a judge of color. Except for one two-year period, the state Supreme Court has been all-white for two decades. And in a state where people of color make up about 20 percent of the population, only 14 percent of Pennsylvania’s federal judges are people of color, including semi-retired judges. Meanwhile, only 14 of the state’s 66 federal judges and only 25 percent of state judges are women, even though women are more than half of the state’s population.”

Read more

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A Salute to Our Partner Organization on its 10th Anniversary

This month marks the 10-year anniversary of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) and its work to rebuild justice across the United States. Our friends at IAALS deserve hearty applause.

In 2006, IAALS opened its doors at the University of Denver with a mission to continuously improve the American legal system and reestablish it as the aspirational model for justice around the world.

The Institute’s evolution and growth has been remarkable and is a testament to IAALS’  pioneering model. It is not just a place where problems are studied and solutions crafted, but one where action is taken and real, and positive changes are made. Read more

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Effort to Remove Virginia Judge is On Hold

Republican efforts to oust Virginia Supreme Court Justice Jane Marum Roush, an interim appointee of Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe, were up in the air after a Republican state senator said he supports Roush’s staying on the court.

Because Republicans hold only a two-member margin in the state Senate, Sen. Glen Sturtevant’s announced support for Roush could lead to a tie vote. The panels that had planned to interview a Republican-preferred candidate on Monday postponed the interviews, according to The Washington Post and The Richmond Times-Dispatch. “This politicization of the Supreme Court — it hurts Virginia, and I’m not going to be a part of that,” Sturtevant said on Saturday. Read more

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Another Attack: Bill to Shrink WA Court, Elect Justices by Districts

A year ago, Gavel Grab asked, “How many ways are there for Washington legislators to lash out at the Washington Supreme Court over its funding decisions about K-12 public education?” This week, with help from Gavel to Gavel, it has been disclosed that the answer is, “Even more.”

Alternate proposals submitted unsuccessfully in the Washington legislature in 2014 and 2015 have been combined into one new bill, according to Gavel to Gavel, which tracks court legislation in the states. The new measure would  would shrink the court dramatically from nine members to five, through attrition, and would have justices elected from five geographic districts to be drawn in the state. Read more

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JAS Partner: Get PA Judges Out of the Fundraising Business

It is time to get judges out of the business of campaigning for office and fundraising to do so, Executive Director Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts urges in an Allentown Morning Call op-ed.

Marks catalogues the myriad of scandals and embarrassments that have plagued Pennsylvania’s courts in recent years, especially a current email scandal touching a sitting Supreme Court justice, and says a “we the people” based reform drive for merit selection would be the best answer.

“‘We the People’ can fix problems with the court system,” Marks writes. She continues to highlight major problems affecting fair and impartial courts in her state:

“We can spell out that runaway spending — more than $16 million in November’s Supreme Court race — mostly from groups and individuals with a stake in the outcome of cases is wrong. We can say it’s time to get judges out of the campaign and fundraising business.

“We can say no to a system that promotes nasty negative ads paid for by special interest groups who are often in court. We can reject the current system that is so random that one’s ballot position can make the difference of who becomes a judge.”

Read more

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