Gavel Grab

Archive for June, 2009

links for 2009-06-30

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links for 2009-06-27

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High Court Decision Prompts Recusal Review in Nevada

The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that Nevada has ordered a commission studying Nevada’s court system to make recommendations on how the state should respond to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Caperton v. Massey.   The commission was asked to set guidelines when a judge should recuse him or herself in cases involving major campaign supporters.

A report was already produced on April 2, 2009, but stated that because the Caperton case was still pending, a report on judicial recusals would be created following Supreme Court’s decision.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that judges who are elected may in some cases have to recuse themselves if they have received large campaign contributions from litigants.

The report could spark amendments  in Nevada’s Judicial Code.  The court has set a July 20 deadline for the report.

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West Virginia Reform Commission

Articles in the West Virginia Record and the Charleston Daily Mail reported on, and Wednesday June 17 and Thursday June 18 that a reform commission is being created in West Virginia, with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the chairperson. The nine-member independent commission, created by Governor Joe Manchin, will address questions of judicial reform, including the question of whether there is a better way to select State Supreme Court Justices.

Manchin said he hopes a report will be ready by November. The state’s  judicial system has come under fire  because of the Supreme Court case Caperton v. Massey, which originated in West Virginia. It has raised questions over whether large campaign contributions are compromising justice in the state. 

In a recent poll done by Mark Blankenship Enterprises, it was found that two-thirds of the citizens in West Virginia prefer different ways to elect State Supreme Court Justices. Justice O’Conner specifically mentioned her preference to a judicial system similar to the kind that Arizona has. Contrary to West Virginia, in which candidates are chosen through competitive elections,  Arizona has a merit-based system with periodic retention elections.

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N.J. Radio Host Arrested for Threatening Judges

A radio talk show host in New Jersey has been arrested on charges of levying death threats against three federal judges, the New York Times reports.

Hal Turner, regarded by many as an anti-Semitic white supremacist, said that the three judges, William J. Bauer, Frank H. Easterbrook and Richard A. Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals “deserve to be killed.” He made the comment on his blog after the courts ruled to uphold a ban on handguns in Chicago.

In addition to posting the statement, Turner also posted the judges’ work addresses, photographs and phone numbers, with promises to post their home addresses at a later date. He was arrested at his home on Wednesday by the FBI.

An Associated Press article on the case also is posted in Talking Points Memo.

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links for 2009-06-26

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links for 2009-06-25

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Recusal Debate and the First Amendment

Amanda Bronstad writes an article for the National Law Journal, titled “Stage Set for Litigation Over Judicial Recusal”.  The aftermath continues for the Caperton v. Massey ruling as Bronstad discusses both sides of the recusal debate.  She states that the Court’s ruling:

“prompted the American Bar Association and several states to consider stricter rules to help elected judges decide whether to step down from cases due to conflicts of interest born of campaign contributions”

However, Bronstad expresses concern from some, of eventual violation of the First Amendment, which is a freedom of speech issue that seems to be “rolled into being able to contribute”, said Joe Turnham, chairman for the Alabama Democratic Party.  The article references the 2002 Republican Party of Minnesota v. White case, which found a violation of the First Amendment.  William K. Weisenberg, chairman of the American Bar Association, responded with “…we have to always be sensitive to First Amendment issues” to the argument, saying furthermore, “we expect more court cases to try to define what the Caperton case is about.”

The article also represents those who argue that more guidance from the Supreme Court’s ruling is needed.  Interest groups need to know how much they can give without putting judges in a position where a judge might be removed from a case.  Those parameters are now left to each individual state.

For further information on the First Amendment in relation to the Caperton v. Massey case, see: Previous Gavel Grab blog

Mike Lawrence published “Big Money Undercuts Judicial Credibility” in the Chicago Tribune on June 23rd.  Lawrence makes the point that a Judge’s campaign consists of a long list of dont’s with very few do’s.  A judge-in-running cannot make promises, appear biased, disclose how he or she would rule in a courtroom, and essentially should not know who contributed to his or her campaign, among other prohibitions, all the while acting like a true candidate.

  Lawrence goes through the steps of campaigning through the struggles in the eyes of Judges, putting into perspective how many complicated restrictions there are.  Lawrence, an advocate for more dramatic reform himself, says he believes that even with public financing and limits on direct contributions that interest groups will still remain potent.  However, he does say that safeguards do exist that would restore public confidence in the courts.

For more information, see: Previous GavelGrab blogs

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links for 2009-06-24

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Times Column Cites Brennan Panel, Sotomayor Debate

In a column called “What Kind of Judges Do We Want,” law professor Stanley Fish dissects questions raised by the Sonia Sot0mayor nomination, including the role of “empathy” and personal background in judicial decision-making.

The backdrop of the column is a panel hosted last week by the Brennan Center for Justice on judging, which is described in a BCJ blog item by Ciara Torres-Spelliscy.

Fish’s column noted his frustration with the word “empathy,” a quality Obama said he wanted in a justice, but which has been a lightning rod for conservative critics of Sotomayor, who say it’s a code word for liberal activism. And Fish took aim at an oft-criticized remark by Sotomayor that she might make better decisions because she is a Hispanic woman.

“No one perspective suffices to capture all aspects of reality and that, therefore, the presence in the interpretive arena of multiple perspectives is a good thing. In a given instance, the “Latina Judge” might reach a better decision not because she was better in some absolute, racial sense, but because she was better acquainted than her brethren with some aspects of the situation they were considering.”

To see the full column, click here. To see Justice at Stake’s resource page on the Sotomayor nomination, click here.

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