Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Judicial Independence’ Category

Editorial Blasts ‘Unprecedented’ Assault on Florida Justices

A  Tampa Bay Times editorial condemns an “unprecedented” political assault on three state Supreme Court justices who are up for retention election. It also warns that the court’s independence is threatened by this attack over a few rulings in controversial cases:

“This year, three justices are under an unprecedented political assault by the Republican Party of Florida and outside conservative groups that are upset with some of the court’s decisions. Floridians should reject this attempt to intimidate and politicize the state’s highest court, and they should retain Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince.”

Florida’s Republican Party and other groups have attacked “judicial activism” on the court (see Gavel Grab), and Republican Gov. Rick Scott would be positioned to pick three successors if the targeted justices are not returned to the bench this fall.

The editorial contends that Republicans, in fact, are displeased by the courts serving as “an important check on the heavy handedness” of Scott and the legislature, and that a successful anti-retention drive in November would allow Scott to “stack the court.”

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NY Times: Anti-Retention Drives Threaten Impartial Justice

An effort by Republicans and other conservatives to oust three Florida Supreme Court justices over a few  rulings in controversial cases amounts to the “attempted hijacking of what are supposed to be nonpolitical retention elections,” a New York Times editorial declared.

The editorial, entitled “Impartial Justice at Risk,” likened the ouster effort in a Forida retention election to one under way in Iowa to remove state Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins over the court’s decision permitting same-sex couples to marry.

Judicial retention (yes-or-no) elections were devised as “essentially referendums focused on a judge’s competence and honesty” and not as opportunities for political revenge when critics disagree with a court ruling, the editorial said. While it noted that the justices are fighting back with active campaigns in Florida, “their retention is by no means assured.” The editorial concluded:

“What is absolutely certain is the damaging message of intimidation that would flow from their removal.”

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Targeted Florida Justices Push Back Against Critics

Three Florida Supreme Court justices who are targets of an ouster campaign over a few rulings in controversial cases pushed back vigorously against their critics on Friday.

The independence and the impartiality of Florida’s judiciary are threatened by partisan and special-interest attacks like the  anti-retention drive that is under way, the justices said, with one of them warning of a return to a “corrupt” judicial system.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince and Barbara Pariente are targeted in a November retention (yes-or-no) election by the Republican Party of Florida, which broke from tradition in taking a stand, and by a conservative activist group and the Americans for Prosperity organization. The justices appeared on a panel sponsored by the Florida State University school of law and the League of Women Voters.

Here are some of the justices’ remarks, drawn from news accounts by The Associated Press, Reuters, and The News Service of Florida:

Justice Lewis: ”Any time you have the threat of a judge making a decision because he or she is looking over her shoulder or his shoulder as to who has the check book behind you the next time around you’ve just defined a corrupt system.”

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Michigan Bill Aims to Limit State Court Use of International Law

When the Michigan legislature comes back into session in late November, it will decide the fate of a bill aimed at limiting the state judiciary’s use of foreign law.

According to the blog of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), Gavel to Gavel, the bill states that a foreign law shall not be enforced if doing so “would violate a right guaranteed by the constitution of this state or of the United States.” NCSC is a JAS partner organization.

As Gavel Grab has previously covered, Michigan is not the first state to propose a law like this.  Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Alabama have all enacted some version of this legislation. As of February, 21 states were considering proposals that would limit the ability of courts to apply the laws or legal codes of other nations.

Michigan’s state legislature will vote on the bill November 27th.

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Editorial Scorches NH Court Rule-Making Proposal

A Nashua (N.H.) Telegraph editorial decried a ballot proposal  to amend New Hampshire’s Constitution and give legislators ultimate authority in making rules for court administration violates the principle of separation of powers. The item is named CACR 26.

“CACR 26 is a bald-faced legislative power grab that supplants a fundamental tenet on which this nation was founded – the separation of governmental powers,” the editorial declared.

In noting strong arguments why voters should defeat the proposal, the editorial quoted from a commentary earlier this year by former New Hampshire Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau and former Gov. Steve Merrill.

“The court is not a state agency. It is a branch of government. By the language of the New Hampshire Constitution, the legislative branch is political; the judicial branch is not. We value an independent political branch, and we value an independent judicial branch,” they wrote. “Everyone, nevertheless, should be concerned about a legislative takeover of the courts, because political control of the judiciary is just not in the public interest.”

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Six Ex-Justices Criticize Florida GOP on Anti-Retention Push

The Republican Party of Florida’s recent statement opposing retention of three state Supreme Court justices undermines the purpose of merit selection of judges, which is to remove partisan politics from the courts, six former Florida justices say.

In a Miami Herald op-ed, the six call the Florida GOP’s action an “unprecedented attempt to politicize the judiciary” and remove justices over one, or a few, decisions. The authors are former Justices Harry Lee Anstead; Raoul G. Cantero; Arthur J. England Jr.; Stephen H. Grimes; Major B. Harding; and Ben F. Overton. They explain:

“The entire point of a fair and impartial judiciary is that its decisions will not be influenced by outside forces such as campaign donations or political pressure. In the past, even party leaders who disagreed with a court’s decision understood the vital importance of a fair and impartial judiciary.

“The RPOF’s recent unprecedented attempt to politicize the judiciary — and to remove three Supreme Court justices based only on disagreement with one (or even a few) decisions — undermines the purpose of the merit selection and retention process, which is precisely to remove partisan politics from the judiciary. As former justices of the Florida Supreme Court, we hope that such partisan actions will not succeed in depriving Florida citizens of the fair and unbiased judges that our merit system is intended to provide.”

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Retention Election a Front-Burner Topic in Florida

The debate over a judicial ouster drive in Florida is continuing to sizzle, although the retention election for three state Supreme Court justices is still weeks away:

  • “GOP should butt out of high-court decision,” warned an Orlando Sentinel editorial, addressing the Republican Party of Florida’s recent call to oust the three justices with whom it disagrees (see Gavel Grab).
  • “[I]t’s pure politics,” a Tallahassee Democrat editorial said about the ouster push, as it urged a vote for keeping the three judges on the bench.
  • “[Departing House Speaker Dean] Cannon lashes out at GOP critics and Florida bar in merit retention fight,” the Miami Herald reported. Cannon, a Republican, was sharply critical of the court and unsuccessfully pushed a legislative plan to overhaul the state’s highest court.
  • “Floridians should be scared to death,” former  Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer cautioned, according to another Miami Herald article. The Republican Party, he said,  ”has no business interfering or attempting to manipulate the makeup of the Florida Supreme Court or the state’s judiciary.”
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Illinois: What Role Should Judges Play in Pension Cases?

Debates over state worker pensions are heading to court, and public employees worried about theirs are seeking out judges to serve as plaintiffs. More judges across the country are making rulings on their own pensions, and Illinois is beginning to see the effects of this, an Illinois Watchdog article says.

The New Jersey Supreme Court made headlines in July when it ruled that the “state’s judges are constitutionally protected” from having to pay more for their health benefits and pensions (see Gavel Grab).

The New Jersey justices made a distinction between their pensions and those of other public employees, but state workers in other parts of the country hope that their cases will be strengthened by having “retired judges and sitting judges” as plaintiffs in class action suits, the article reports. Read more

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Proposed Michigan Judicial Selection Reforms Win Support

A bipartisan task force’s call in April, for sweeping reforms to judicial selection in Michigan, still is winning editorial endorsement.

The task force made among its top recommendations the full disclosure of those funding state Supreme Court campaign ads and open, nonpartisan primaries for the Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab).

This week, a Holland Sentinel editorial used the occasion of recent nominating conventions to criticize state Supreme Court races that are both partisan and often big-spending.

“You don’t have to be a professional cynic to worry about the influence of money on judicial independence,” the editorial continued, citing concerns raised and reforms suggested by the task force, which was led by two judges.

The editorial urged “removing political parties from the nominating process entirely” and taking action “to eliminate potential campaign contribution conflicts of interest.” While the editorial board said it isn’t a great fan of public financing, “if it’s ever appropriate it’s for the Supreme Court.” It supported requiring full disclosure of donors to state Supreme Court campaigns.

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‘No’ Vote Urged on New Hampshire Court Rule-Making Proposal

A plan to amend New Hampshire’s Constitution and give legislators ultimate authority in making rules for court administration violates the principle of separation of powers and should be rejected by voters this fall, two prominent critics argue.

Former New Hampshire Gov. Stephen Merrill, a Republican, and former state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Nadeau wrote a commentary in The Keene Sentinel that was strongly critical of the proposal:

“What makes this legislative proposal troublesome and extreme is it violates a fundamental principle of constitutional democracy; the three branches of government ought to be separate and independent. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor noted, ‘The framers of the Constitution were so clear in the federalist papers and elsewhere that they felt an independent judiciary was critical to the success of the nation.’ We agree.

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