Gavel Grab

Archive for July, 2008

For Critics, Detainee Trials Are on Trial

William Glaberson, with the New York Times, reported this week on the commencement of the trial of Salim Hamdan, Osama Bin Laden’s driver. The story, titled “In Detainee Trial, System is Tested” describes the nature of the military tribunals as they are carried out in Guantanamo Bay.

While the Pentagon asserts that the tribunal is “the most just war crimes trial that anybody has ever seen,” representatives from various NGO’s disagreed. Matt Pollard, an observer for Amnesty International, stated that the proceedings were more like a replica of a trial than a real one, and the prize quote of the story had to come from Ben Wizner, of the ACLU, who asked, ““Where else in the world is someone being prosecuted for a crime who is already serving a life sentence and will continue to serve one if he’s acquitted?”

The results of this military tribunal will almost certainly be appealed, and given the recent Boumediene decision, those appeals will likely take place in the federal courts.

In a related story, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, another detainee, has asked that his trial before the military tribunal be blocked so that he can proceed in the federal court system.  Catch the full story on SCOTUS Blog here.

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Immigration Linked to Court Strains

The Third Branch, the “Newsletter of the Federal Courts,” reports that courts along the border are calling for additional staff and judges.   Operation Streamline II, a newly introduced crackdown on illegal immigration, has significantly increased caseloads across the southwestern portion of the federal court system.

While the courts report that they are adequately funded overall, the five Southwest border courts have submitted requests for 14 additional district judgeships, and may request additional magistrates as well.

Check out the full story and some of its implications here.

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New Developments on Terror Cases

A legal battle is shaping up over how federal judges should view the Guantanamo cases, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s Boumediene ruling. The Justice Department would like a “streamlined” process that gives judges very “narrow review,” while defense lawyers want a more “sweeping and penetrating” look into the government’s reasoning for detaining defendants, according to SCOTUS blog

Also, U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour said in a Washington post op-ed that federal courts are well-suited to try terrorism and detainee cases. Judge Coughenour, who sentenced the millennium bomber in 2005, said federal courts can guarantee “circumspect and legitimate” trials that balance individual liberty with community safety. In an editorial, the Post endorsed the alternative framework of a specialized national security court to do the job.

Other resources: a U.S. District Court  information page and schedule for Guantanamo cases; Justice at Stake’s recap of 2008 activity, “What Role for the Courts in the War on Terror? A Summary of Recent Developments”; and “Courting Danger,” Justice at Stake’s review of civil liberties and the war on terror.

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links for 2008-07-31

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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.

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Justice Is Supposed to Be Blind, But Maybe Not This Blind…

The ACLU received a response to its Freedom of Information Act request for memos related to torture on Thursday. Here’s what the memos look like:

Not particularly interesting reading

It’s going to prove pretty difficult for the courts to perform their necessary role as arbiters of lawful conduct if this is all they’re given to work with.

Check out the ACLU’s Blog of Rights post about it here, and see the full memos (what there is to see) here.

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links for 2008-07-30

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Give Me the Money or Else…

Campaign donations are meant to be just that…a donation. However, for friends of Reginald K Davis, a judicial candidate in Wyandotte County, Kansas, a donation may be seen as a way of protecting their livelihood.

After complaints had been filed with the Kansas Commission on Judicial Qualifications, Davis admitted to having sent this text message to lawyers in the area, “If you are truly my friend then you would cut a check to the campaign! I you do not then its time I checked you. Either you are with me or against me!”

The message, as discussed in the Kansas City Star’s “PrimeBuzz” blog, is the subject of a recent report issued by the American Judicature Society‘s Center for Judicial Ethics.

Davis also admits to having solicited contributions during a public event, but he said his earlier text-mail words were not meant to be intimidating. He also said that his opponent,  Daniel Cahill, is the person responsible for the negative connotation to his words.

Even during an era when special interests are spending more on court elections, judicial Canons continue to prohibit judges from personally soliciting campaign funds. 

The American Bar Association has also been instrumental in creating a Model Code of Judicial Conduct that sets guidelines for judges and candidates to follow in the hopes of avoiding these dilemmas in future judicial elections.

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links for 2008-07-29

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Chicago Tribune Article Cites Justice at Stake

Special-interest donations and the courts are the topic of an in-depth article in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Reporter Tim Jones quotes Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, James Sample, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, and Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general who has appealed a West Virginia Supreme Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 Olson is arguing that a West Virginia justice was obligated to recuse himself from a case involving a West Virginia mining executive who had heavily financed the justice’s election campaign. Olson told the Tribune that a “line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge.”

The Tribune article is called “Special interests pour cash into judicial races.” You can also download Justice at Stake’s report, “New Politics of Judicial Elections in the Great Lakes States: 2000-2008, ” which is cited in the Tribune article.


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