As High Court Nomination Nears, Criticism of Ad Attacking Judge

President Obama, apparently nearing a decision on a Supreme Court nominee to succeed Justice Antonin Scalia, told CNN that he would choose someone “who should be a consensus candidate,” according to The New York Times.

Varying sides have begun taking to the airwaves over the vacancy and the vow by Senate Republican leaders to blockade Obama’s upcoming nominee. On Monday, Justice at Stake decried as a “political attack,” mirroring others in the states, new advertising by the Judicial Crisis Network critical of a potential Obama nominee, Judge Jane Kelly.

That campaign drew other critiques. At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern wrote, “The Smear Campaign Against Potential SCOTUS Nominee Jane Kelly Is an Attack on the Constitution,” and at ThinkProgress, Ian Millhiser wrote, “The War Against Obama’s Potential Supreme Court Nominees Takes An Ugly, Offensive Turn.” (more…)

Commentary: Attack on Judge a Reminder of Dangers of Job

An attack on a Texas trial judge outside her home offers a reminder of the dangers that public servants, especially judges, can face in their line of work, an Austin American-Statesman editorial blog says.

Travis County Judge Julie Kocurek was shot at and left for dead in the driveway of her home on Friday night (see Gavel Grab). Wounded in the assault, she has survived.

The editorial blog said judges shoulder both a heavy and a dangerous burden: “Our district judges preside over and help sort out the most troubled parts of humanity: the criminal, mentally ill, distraught, wounded and fearful. The decisions they make and the judgments they hand down affect the course of the lives for all who appear in their courts: the victims, the innocent, the guilty and witnesses.”

It added, “Without judges, our judicial system falls apart. Judges need to be able to do their jobs without looking over their shoulders in the courthouse and at home.”

‘Person of Interest’ Held in Connection With Attack on Judge

In Texas, an individual described by law enforcement authorities as a person of interest in an attack on a judge at her home was charged with murder in a separate, unrelated crime, the Austin American-Statesman said.

Travis County Judge Julie Kocurek was shot at and left for dead in the driveway of her home on Friday night (see Gavel Grab). She survived and was being treated at a hospital.

In related coverage, reported, “Judicial community devastated by judge’s shooting.” The attack was causing some to consider the security of judges elsewhere. “Security for Brazos County judges doesn’t extend beyond the courthouse,” said a KAGS News headline.

Texas Judge Wounded in Attack; Was She Targeted?

Travis County, Texas Judge Julie Kocurek was shot at and left for dead in the driveway of her home on Friday night. CNN reported that colleagues cannot help but wonder if she was targeted for her work.

“The idea that you would be ambushed or attacked in your home for the work that you do was just mind-boggling to me,” Travis County Administrative Judge Lora Livingston said.

The Austin American-Statesman reported the judge’s injuries came from shrapnel and glass, after the car in which she was an occupant stopped because an obstacle, a trash can or garbage bag, had been placed in the driveway and was blocking it. She was being treated at a hospital. The newspaper said the attack was “what Austin police investigators believe was an assassination attempt in connection to her work.”

Could a federal lawsuit rescue Kansas Supreme Court?

Gov. Brownback

A bill signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback that “linked funding for the judiciary to the outcome of a Kansas Supreme Court case” as reported in Above the Law, continues to spark controversy. Now an analysis in Slate suggests that the Kansas Supreme Court may be able to strike back.

“He (Brownback) has forgotten one escape hatch against autocracy: the United States Constitution,” reported Slate. According to the analysis, the Kansas Supreme Court can sue Brownback under the so-called Guarantee Clause, an obscure provision of the Constitution.

Coverage of the crisis in Kansas has been overwhelmingly negative. “Brownback only wants to pay the courts if they render the decision that he wants,” said Above the Law; while The Aspen Times accused Brownback and his “cohorts” of using their position to “undermine the constitutionally backed independence of judiciary, in order to pack state courts with judges who agree with him.” It also said it was a “subtle political coup in the making.” The LA Times described the situation as “what can only be seen as attempted extortion,” and Slate  stated that Brownback was trying to “threaten it (the Kansas Judiciary) with total destruction.”

Editorial Scolds Idaho Lawmakers for Judicial Impeachment Stance

An editorial in the Idaho Press-Tribune takes Idaho legislators to task for passing a resolution urging the impeachment of federal judges who support marriage for same-sex couples.   In a sharply worded piece, Opinion Editor Phil Bridges notes that the state House resolution disregards the fundamental constitutional principle of separation of powers.  He goes on to remind lawmakers that many of them voted for a law requiring the state’s high school seniors to pass a basic civics test.

Underscoring his point, Bridges writes, “You can’t declare that a judge should be kicked out because he or she has a difference of opinion on constitutional interpretation. That would be akin to judges declaring that lawmakers should be impeached for passing ‘bad law.’”

A wave of court rulings affirming marriage rights for same-sex couples has generated increasing calls for impeachment and censure of judges in a number of states.  While some have been symbolic, as in Idaho, others could result in penalties for sitting judges if passed.  See Gavel Grab.



Kansas Supreme Court Under Political Attack Again

Critic say Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is injecting politics into the Kansas judicial branch with criticism of the quality of the state Supreme Court judges.

According to, Kobach is calling for a change to the merit selection system of choosing state Supreme Court justices – this time making claims that Kansas federal judges are better qualified because they go through a Senate confirmation process.

That assertion is simply not true say fair court advocates.

“Secretary of State Kobach is once again meddling with the judicial branch and trying to bring politics into our courts. Our current system was put in place in 1956 following a political scandal involving appointments to the high court by the then-governor in what became known as the ‘Triple-Play.’ Our current selection system has proven to be the best way to ensure quality judges are on the bench and the threats of politicization are minimized,” Ryan Wright, Executive Director of Kansans for Fair Courts, told Gavel Grab.


Column Faults 'Despicable' Attack on Arkansas Courts

It is time for citizens who are concerned about protecting fair and impartial courts to stand up and denounce “vile smears” and other attacks on the courts, a Lambda Legal official warns in a column for (San Diego Gay and Lesbian News).

The column by Eric Lesh, fair courts project manager for Lambda Legal, is headlined, “The despicable antigay attack on Arkansas’ courts.” Lesh criticizes a resolution by the Arkansas Legislative Council, submitted to the state Supreme Court, accusing a trial court judge of failing to uphold the state Constitution when he declared unconstitutional a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab for more).

“Attacks on our courts are outrageous and put our system of justice at risk, but we do not have to resign ourselves to the ‘new normal’ of a politicized judicial branch,” Lesh writes. Lambda Legal is a Justice at Stake partner organization. (more…)

AK Judicial Council Can Inform on Judges before Retention

As a result of almost four years’ court contention, an opinion issued by Alaska State Supreme Court last Friday authorized the Alaska Judicial Council to release new information about judges within the three months prior to an election, reports Alaska Dispatch News.

According to the article, in 2010, the council advertised against former Alaska District Court Judge Richard Postma, who failed to be retained in the end. In response to voters’ complaints regarding the council’s authority before an election, the Supreme Court allowed it to make retention recommendations while forbidding it from issuing new information against the judge in the three months before an election.

Alaska Judicial Council Executive Director Susanne DiPietro described the new opinion, which freed the council to advertise and inform previous to an election, a “very good outcome for the council and the public.” “I think that the court is recognizing the importance of the council’s public information purpose,” she stated.

The Alaska Department of Law also praised the Supreme Court’s decision in a statement, which says “The Judicial Council plays a vital role in educating the public and ensuring that voters have the information needed to decide whether or not to retain a judge.”

Lawmaker Renews Call to Impeach Judge

justice-scalesOhio state legislator John Becker is renewing demands that federal judge Timothy Black be impeached, according to  a report on the Cleveland Plain Dealer’s news website.   The threat followed Judge Black’s indication in recent days that he would strike down Ohio’s ban on recognizing marriages for same-sex couples that were performed in other states.

Becker also called for Black’s impeachment last year, following the judge’s ruling that Ohio must recognize marriages of  same-sex couples legally performed elsewhere, when issuing death certificates (see Gavel Grab).  Becker is the sole sponsor of a resolution in the Ohio House calling on the U.S. House to impeach Black.  In a statement issued by his office, Becker accused Black of being influenced by “personal political bias” in his rulings, according to the website.  But the president of the Cincinnati bar association, quoted in the same piece, maintained that Black was upholding the Constitution, not violating it.  Click here for more on impeachment threats against judges.