JAS, Partners to Release U.S. Judgeship "How-To" Report

JAS, in partnership with the American Constitution Society, Hispanic National Bar Association, National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, National Association of Women Judges, National Bar Association, National Congress of American Indians and National LGBT Bar Association is hosting a reception marking the release of a joint publication, The Path to the Federal Bench: A “How To” Guide on Pursuing a Federal Judgeship.

The federal judicial selection process can seem obscure to those interested in pursuing a seat on the bench.  This guide alerts potential candidates to the intricacies of the process, pitfalls to avoid and provides suggestions for a successful candidacy.

The report will be released at a May 31st reception in Washington, D.C. hosted by the Jones Day law firm on its Capitol Terrace at 51 Louisiana Avenue, N.W. The reception begins at 6 p.m., with a brief program at 6:30 p.m. Special guest, Judge Theodore McKee, Chief Judge of the Third Circuit, will deliver remarks. RSVP for the event here.

New 'Eyes on Justice' Released

The newest edition of Justice at Stake’s biweekly newsletter, Eyes on Justice, is now available online here.

Topics included in this weeks edition are:

  • Campaign finance regulation case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.
  • A new essay by Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg on the perils in free corporate spending.
  • The recent dismissal of a lawsuit brought against the Alaskan merit selection system.
  • A hearing of the Michigan Campaign Finance Network considering disqualification rules for judges.
  • Editorials discussing the only female to take the bench in the 8th circuit of Minnesota.

To subscribe to Eyes on Justice click here.

New Gavel to Gavel Issue

Gavel to Gavel, the excellent National Center for State Courts summary of legislation affecting state courts, has been released. This note from editor Bill Raftery contains the details:

  • Small claims: Oklahoma’s House and Senate vote to more than quadruple their limits from $6,000 to $25,000 while New Hampshire’s House approves an increase from $5,000 to $10,000.

  • Oklahoma’s House and Senate have now approved similar bills to allow the leaders of their respective chambers to select members of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission.

  • Texas’ Senate and House Elections Committee approve bills to prohibit accepting or asking for campaign contributions in a courthouse.

  • Nevada’s Assembly votes to set deadlines and restructure processing for the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline.

  • Tennessee’s legislature sends to their governor a bill to create municipal courts in any municipality that does not already have one.

  • Washington’s legislature approves a restructuring to drug court funding in the state.

  • South Carolina considers amending their constitution to allow trial judges, but not appellate jurists, and other elected officials to play the state lottery.

Read it all here: http://www.ncsconline.org/D_Research/gaveltogavel/G%20to%20G%203-17.pdf

And remember our new searchable database for all Gavel to Gavel legislation: http://www.ncsconline.org/D_Research/gaveltogavel/Bills.asp.

New Eyes on Justice Released

Justice at Stake has released its newest issue of Eyes On Justice, a biweekly electronic newsletter on issues affecting fair and impartial courts. Topics included in this new edition of Eyes on Justice are:

  • Justice at Stake’s poll on recusal.
  • Interview with ABA Oresident H. Thomas “Tommy” Wells Jr.
  • A new study linking campaign contributions to judicial decisions.
  • A New York Times editorial urging impeachment of Texas Judge Sharon Keller
  • A U.S. federal court decision to allow Wisconsin judges to engage in partisan activities.
  •  Editorials calling for the release of the Uighurs from Guantanamo

Click here to read this week’s edition of Eyes on Justice. To subcribe to Eyes on Justice, click here.

Conyers Issues Report on 'Imperial Presidency'

Rep. John ConyersOn Tuesday, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) published a 487-page report entitled, “Reining in the Imperial Presidency: Lessons and Recommendations Relating to the presidency of George W. Bush.”

The tone of the report is perhaps best exemplified by its definition of the term “Imperial Presidency”:

“Imperial Presidency” is a term used to embody a fervently held anti-democratic belief system, rooted in a constitutionally unsupportable view of the president’s power vis-à-vis the Congress, the courts, and the people of the United States.

The report’s foreword, authored by Rep. Conyers, contains a scathing attack on the Bush Administration’s view of executive authority:

The Bush Administration’s approach to power is, at its core, little more than a restatement of Mr. Nixon’s famous rationalization of presidential misdeeds: “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Under this view, laws that forbid torturing or degrading prisoners cannot constrain the president because, if the president ordered such acts as Commander in Chief, “that means it’s not illegal.” Under this view, it is not the courts that decide the reach of the law – it is the president – and neither the judiciary nor Congress can constrain him.

The report itself contains 47 policy recommendations to the Obama Administration (more…)

Brennan Center Releases Judicial Diversity Report


The Brennan Center for Justice has just released “Improving Judicial Diversity,” a report that closely inspects the judicial appointive systems of 10 states. The study reveals a disturbing lack of diversity on state benches, both in judicial selection and election systems, and offers ways to improve judicial nominating commissions to properly reflect our nation’s diverse citizenry.

The report notes:

The United States is more diverse than ever, but its state judges are not. While we recognize that citizens are entitled to a jury of their peers who will be drawn from a pool that reflects the surrounding community, Americans who enter the courtroom often face a predictable presence on the bench: a white male…

Unfortunately, studies show that both merit selection systems and judicial elections are equally challenged when it comes to creating diversity…

The problem is clear: even after years of women and minorities making strides in the legal profession, white men continue to hold a disproportionate share of judicial seats compared with their share of the general population. The question of why this pattern persists does not have an easy answer; the dynamic is created by the intersection of a number of complex factors.

But it is a situation we can fix.

Michael Waldman, Executive Director for the Brennan Center, expresses this same sense of hope in the report’s foreword: “Whether judges are appointed or elected, we have far to go… [But we] have a rare opportunity at this moment to make the administration of justice more inclusive, more effective, and more just.”

To see the full “Improving Judicial Diversity” report, click here

Latest 'Eyes on Justice' Is Out

The latest “Eyes on Justice,” Justice at Stake’s regular newsletter on issues affecting fair and impartial courts, has been released.

To see the newest edition, which includes stories on stymied pay raises for federal judges, as well as court issues in Illinois, Mississippi and Florida, and a wire service article on judicial elections, click here.

This is Your Brain on Law

From its earliest days, the law has forced its makers to be amateur psychologists.   Myriad rules of evidence and procedure have been crafted to help ensure that human nature does not swamp the facts and law when it’s time for judges and jurors to make a decision.

This is a hard task on a good day.  But recent research from Vanderbilt University casts new light on just how tough it is for courtroom rules to keep up with the inner workings of our brains as they process information and come to a decision.  As reported in the National Law Journal, scientists used magnetic resonance imaging technology to watch the brain at work as subjects made decisions involving issues of crime and punishment.

“The analytical part of the brain — called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — was active when subjects were asked to decide whether or not people deserved to be punished. But the part of the brain that is responsible for emotions was triggered when people were asked to decide the level of punishment deserved in the scenarios,” writes the Journal’s Karen Sloan.

“Emotions are a part of legal decision-making,” added René Marois, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt who worked on the study, which was published in the current issue of the journal Neuron.

If confirmed, research like this would suggest a fresh look at the legal system’s safeguards against bias of all kinds, personal, political and beyond.  Of course, instincts are often way ahead of the data: after all, 76% of Americans believe that campaign contributions affect the outcome of decisions in the courtroom.

New data on judicial elections

Professor C. Scott Peters at the University of Northern Iowa has taken a closer look at the new politics of judicial elections.  In a recent issue of the Justice System Journal, Professor Peters concludes that “at the moment, state supreme court elections or appear in transition — gradually losing their special nature, but, on the whole, not yet fully “political.”

Among the findings: 

  • In 2006, 71% of Supreme Court candidates surveyed indicated that parties or interest groups attempted to influence their campaigns. 
  • “Interest groups have increased their influence on state supreme court elections through the use of candidate questionnaires.” 
  • Only 10% of candidates said the money spent by candidates was not a factor in their election and nearly 75% indicated that it was an important factor.

“Given the link between money and professionalize campaign techniques,” Professor Peters concludes, “one can expect that as money flows into these elections in greater amounts, campaigns will continue their progression toward fully politicized campaigns, in both her organization and their messages.”

New Podcast on Judicial Diversity

Diversity on the bench is the topic of the newest “Ears on Justice” podcast, posted online this week. We offer highlights  from a June 9 panel discussion of current studies and trends concerning federal and state courts.

The panel, part of Justice at Stake’s annual summer workshop in D.C., featured Tom Hilbink of the Open Society Institute, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy of the Brennan Center for Justice, Professor Sally Kenney of the University of Minnesota and Hilary Meyer of Lambda Legal.  

Click here to listen.