Gavel Grab

Archive for the ‘Court Bashing’ Category

Judge’s Stop-And-Frisk Ruling is Assailed, Applauded

After a long trial, a federal judge held that the way New York City police used stop-and-frisk tactics has violated minorities’ constitutional rights. Mayor Michael Bloomberg (photo below right) denounced the ruling, saying the city had been denied a fair trial; in some other quarters, the ruling was praised.

“This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I don’t think understands how policing works,” Bloomberg said, according to the Los Angeles Times. In an appeal, Bloomberg pledged, attorneys for New York City would argue Judge Shira A. Scheindlin (photo at left) was biased, the New York Times reported.

There was favorable reaction as well. A New York Times editorial said Judge Sheindlein had “upheld the bedrock principle of individual liberty.”  At Huffington Post, Geoffrey Stone, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote a commentary headlined, “Stop-and-Frisk: Why We Have Courts.” He applauded the judge:

“The American judiciary exists, first and foremost, to protect the constitutional rights of those who are not in the majority. It exists to ensure that our government treats all of us with respect. It exists to protect the rights of the disadvantaged, the oppressed, the powerless and the despised, even when disadvantaging them advantages the rest of us.

“Three cheers for Judge Scheindlin. She is what the American judicial system, at its best, is all about.” Read more

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Is Court-Bashing Ahead in Oklahoma? Governor Says No

Oklahoma state Sen.  Patrick Anderson has written state judges that an upcoming special session to be convened by the governor with legislative leaders will be focused on “attacking the judiciary.” But that’s not the case, said a spokesman for Gov. Mary Fallin.

According to an Associated Press article, Anderson wrote, “Based upon some of the rumors I am hearing, I expect that there will be an attempt to place term limits on judges and that there will be an effort to eliminate the Judicial Nominating Commission in order to allow the Governor to have complete judicial appointment authority.”

A Fallin spokesman said, however, that Anderson was “incorrect” and elaborated, “The governor is considering calling a special session. However, the topic the special session would address is lawsuit reform.  She is not planning to consider judicial reform or any other issue.”

House Speaker T.W. Shannon recently announced an interim study on term limits for appellate judges, and some critics characterized the move as retaliation over rulings that legislators didn’t like.

Anderson, Fallin and Shannon are Republicans.

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Article Spotlights ‘National War on State Courts’ and Quotes JAS

A failed proposal to slash the salaries of four Iowa Supreme Court justices over their votes on a marriage ruling (see Gavel Grab) is part of a “national war on state courts,” reports an ABA Journal article. It prominently cites concerns identified by Justice at Stake.

To lay the groundwork for favorable court rulings, special interests are hitting judges with attack ads in campaigns, and legislators are trying to “pack or unpack higher courts with like-minded jurists,” says the article by L. Jay Jackson, a lawyer and free-lance journalist. She quotes JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg as saying an entire “outrage industry,” including politicians, pundits, and fundraisers, has accelerated the push against our courts:

“’The judiciary has to be ready for a more or less permanent challenge to its legitimacy,’ Brandenburg says.”

“Legal observers say the judiciary is under attack as never before, jeopardizing the American tradition of impartial jurisprudence,” the article warns. At the same time, when the public is informed Read more

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‘Retaliation’ in Oklahoma Plan for Study of Judicial Term Limits?

Are fair and impartial Oklahoma courts coming under attack? Some critics described a newly announced interim study on term limits for appellate judges as retaliation for rulings that legislators didn’t like.

House Speaker T.W. Shannon (photo), a Republican, said in announcing the study, according to the Tulsa World, “The forefathers created a system of checks and balances. We must make sure that system is not completely controlled by a powerful handful of activists.”

Only days earlier, the Oklahoma Supreme Court invalidated a lawsuit reform law. The court ruled 7-2 the statute was unconstitutional because it violated what is called the state Constitution’s single-subject rule, the Insurance Journal reported. 

“We have a great judiciary in the state of Oklahoma,” said Senate Minority Leader Sean Burrage, a Democrat, according to an Oklahoman article. “They’re not a state agency; they are a third branch of the government.” He added, “It seems to me this may be retaliation by the Legislature toward the judiciary.” Read more

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NJ Gov. Christie Berates Judge Who Spoke Out

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has repeatedly attacked the state’s Supreme Court as liberal activists, berated Justice Barry Albin this week. On Friday, before a State Bar Association conference, Justice Albin had urged the public to help protect impartial jurists from retribution by politicians, while stopping short of naming Christie (see Gavel Grab).

According to a (Newark) Star-Ledger article, Christie said the following:

“He can say, as far as I’m concerned, whatever he wants to say. He can be as wrong as loudly as he wants to be. But it’s interesting that they pick and choose when it’s appropriate for them to be speaking out on things and they get to be judge and jury on that.

“It’s very interesting. But, you know, Justice Albin …went down to the bar association and played to the cheap seats like the grandstander that he is. So, he can do what he wants to do.” Read more

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Federal Judge Hits ‘Below-the-Belt’ Attack on Record

After the staff of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg released a negative review of a federal judge’s record, the judge criticized a “below-the-belt” attack on judicial independence.

U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin is hearing a civil rights case challenging the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices, which are alleged by plaintiffs to discriminate against Hispanics and blacks.

Bloomberg’s office compiled an internal report painting the judge as “as biased against law enforcement,” the New York Daily News reported recently. In 15 written “search-and-seizure” rulings since Judge Scheindlin took the judgeship in 1994, she made a decision against law enforcement 60 percent of the time, the review indicated.

In an Associated Press interview, the judge took issue with the conclusion.

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Supreme Court a ‘Dictatorship,’ Tennessee Legislator Says

Tennessee state Sen. Mae Beavers, a former Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, recently called the U.S. Supreme Court a “dictatorship” as she pushed for a nullification bill she had introduced.

Her remark was highlighted in an article by ProPublica about some states considering making it a crime to enforce federal gun laws, and invoking a doctrine from before the Civil War called nullification. Some state bills contend the Supreme Court does not have final authority to determine a law’s constitutionality, and that states have that authority.

Beavers is a Republican. Here is an excerpt from her full remarks in February, as reported in The Tennesseean:

“I know many of you are lawyers. You’ve been to law school. You think that the Supreme Court is the ultimate arbiter of any of these laws. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe it was ever granted the authority under the Constitution. In Marbury v. Madison, they simply gave themselves that power. They declared themselves to be the ultimate arbiter of what is and what is not constitutional, and essentially setting themselves up as a dictatorship within the federal government, and I think generation after generation we have just accepted that. Read more

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Sponsors Withdraw Retaliatory Pay-Cut Measure for 4 Iowa Judges

Only days after Justice at Stake and others condemned it, a retaliatory amendment to slash the salaries of four Iowa Supreme Court justices was withdrawn by its sponsors in the legislature.

The justices whom the amendment targeted had participated in a 2009 unanimous court ruling. The decision found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. Under the proposed amendment, their salaries would have been cut from about $163,000 to $25,000.

Justice at Stake criticized the pay-cut proposal as “bullying by state legislators determined to intimidate the state’s justice system into bowing to political pressure” (see Gavel Grab). The Daily Nonpareil, a Council Bluffs area newspaper, published an editorial calling the proposal “truly ridiculous” and quoting Brandenburg.

According to a Des Moines Register article, the amendment’s sponsors described and defended the measure during floor debate on a related judiciary budget measure on Thursday, then withdrew it before a vote was taken.

A Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee said it would not have gotten many votes.

“It is extraordinarily poor public policy to attempt to tie different compensation levels to different individuals in the judicial branch based upon a decision that they’ve made,” said Rep. Chip Baltimore. “That position is certainly not representative of all Republicans here in the House or even most Republicans here in the House.”

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Commentary: Judges Pay-Cut Proposal ‘Takes the Cake’

A recent amendment introduced in the Iowa legislature to slash the salaries of four state Supreme Court justices over a controversial ruling “takes the cake” for retaliatory action, but it also raises serious questions, Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu writes.

It is time for Iowa legislators to get over an “obsession” and move on to “bread-and-butter issues,” Basu adds. Regarding the measure’s sponsors, she asks:

“Would they have this be the new precedent, then — that whenever the court issues a particularly unpopular or controversial ruling with which legislators disagree, the legislative branch can retaliate? Will pay cuts be determined by how unpopular the ruling is? And where would that leave contentious issues like civil rights, women’s rights and racial equality?”

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JAS: Pay-Cut Measure Aimed at Intimidating Iowa Judges

A legislative proposal to slash by 85 percent the salaries of four Iowa Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab) is punitive and reflects an effort to intimidate judges, Justice at Stake said on Thursday.

The four justices participated in a 2009 unanimous court ruling finding it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples.

“This proposal to impose drastic, punitive pay cuts on four Iowa justices can be viewed only one way: as bullying by state legislators determined to intimidate the state’s justice system into bowing to political pressure,” warned Bert Brandenburg, JAS executive director, in a statement.

“It’s outrageous that sitting judges who do their duty and decide cases based on the law and the state constitution should have to fear political reprisal. This isn’t the way the American justice system works.”

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