Gavel Grab

Archive for September, 2012

Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Michigan Supreme Court candidate Bridget Mary McCormack offers reforms she feels would make navigating the state legal system much easier for outside individuals. “Everyday people are very good at making the right decisions, as long as they are presented with full information,” McCormack was quoted in a Windsor Star article.
  • North Carolina candidates up for spots on state appeals courts met to discuss their judicial philosophies at a forum Wednesday night. According to the Sacramento Bee, the candidates stressed the importance of fairness and impartiality, stating that the “job of an appeals court judge is to leave the creation of laws to the executive and legislative branches of government.”
  • A Washington Post article looks at the possible effect the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin could have on university admissions. An LA Times article also discussed the potential impact of the affirmative action case.

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CPA Report: Companies Moving Towards Transparency

A recent study conducted by the Center for Political Accountability found that close to 60 percent of the top echelon of Fortune 500 companies either have policies that require them to refrain from making political donations, or require that they disclose their corporate political contributions, reports the Washington Post. The Center for Political Accountability is a JAS partner group.

The study ranked companies along 25 criteria, which measured oversight policies, disclosure practices and political activity. Among the companies given poor evaluations were Yahoo!, Wal-Mart and Amazon. Ranking among the best of the companies were Merck, Microsoft and Aflac.

According to a Politico article, Microsoft’s Senior Director For Corporate Citizenship, Dan Bross, feels that as companies seek to avoid potential public-relations problems, transparency and disclosure are quickly becoming favorable ways to increase public trust.

In recent years, several major companies have been caught in large-scale public controversies over their political spending. Chick-fil-A and Target have both been boycotted; Chick-fil-A for its owner’s support of anti-gay marriage groups and Target for a corporate donation supporting an anti-gay rights gubernatorial candidate.

“Trust in many large institutions, including corporations, is at an all-time low,” Bross said. “So corporations need to think more about issues of transparency, governance, responsibility, openness and disclosure.”

For the Center for Political Accountability’s complete report, click here.

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PA Supreme Court Denies County Courts’ Funding Request

A Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling could bring an end to a quarter century battle over court funding, according to the  Associated Press.

The ruling rejected the county governments’ request to force the General Assembly to give state courts money that has been promised since 1985. While Wednesday’s ruling did not overturn the court’s previous ruling awarding the funding, it also denied the counties’ request that the ruling be enforced.

In his opinion, Chief Justice Ronald Castille stated that in recent years the courts have progressed and the justices feel the three branches of government must produce further enhancements through a cooperative effort.

“We trust in the prospect of further cooperation of the coordinate branches to determine what local court functions are necessary, or wise, to be incorporated within a unified, centrally funded system,” Castille wrote.

Executive Director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Doug Hill, expressed disappointment with the decision. He says, however, that discussion regarding how to consolidate more court-related operations under statewide supervision continue.

“Counties continue to find it difficult to balance the needs of a court that they don’t control against the available tax resources that they have locally,” Hill said. “We continue to believe that the most uniform justice is achieved by consolidating the system.”


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Dueling Retention Bus Tours in Iowa: Blistering at Times

Dueling bus tours, one supporting the ouster of a state Supreme Court justice and one opposing it, crossed Iowa this week. At times, the remarks grew personal and sharp. Critics of Justice David Wiggins attacked him personally. His defenders accused the other side of outright “lies.”

From The Daily Nonpareil in Council Bluffs, Iowa, came a dispatch that included these excerpts:

“Iowans for Freedom State Chair Bob Vander Plaats called Wiggins ‘arrogant, confrontational, not very bright and lazy.’”

“‘Since 2010 Iowans have been barraged with misinformation and outright lies about this issue and the justices,’ said [Iowa State Bar] association president Cynthia Moser. ‘They have it wrong; we are here to set it straight.’”

In 2010, a similar campaign by social conservatives swept three justices off the high court over a unanimous court opinion that permitted same-sex marriage. Justice Wiggins joined that opinion, and critics are seeking to remove him a retention election this year. Lawyers and other groups,  contending that retention elections are not meant to be referenda on controversial decisions, are fighting back hard this time around.

Here are some related news reports: Omaha World-Herald, “Justice retention battle comes to the Bluffs;” (Spencer) Daily Reporter, “Bus Battle;” KTIV, “Justice retention vote hot issue again 2012;” and Fort Dodge Messenger, “Retention of Iowa Supreme Court Justice Wiggins is shadowed by politics.”

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Report: Waiting Time for Judicial Confirmation Has Increased

The waiting time for an “uncontroversial” federal district court or circuit court nominee to win Senate confirmation has increased steadily from the Reagan administration to the Obama administration, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

The average waiting period from nomination to confirmation for a circuit court nominee rose from a low of 64.5 days in the Reagan administration to a high of 227.3 days in the Obama administration, the report said.

For district court nominees, the corresponding numbers were 69.9 days and 204.8 days. The report offered these reasons:

“Various political and institutional factors in the Senate might help explain the increase, across presidencies, in the waiting times from nomination to confirmation experienced by uncontroversial U.S. circuit and district court nominees. These include ideological differences between the President and Senators, how quickly the Read more

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Toobin: Time for Presidential Nominees to Discuss High Court

The future face of the Supreme Court is the “most important issue that neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney ever mention on the campaign trail,” legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin asserts in a CNN commentary.

To cite just a few of the far-reaching recent rulings of the court, Toobin points to Citizens United and how it has impacted the current election season, and the court’s ruling on the Affordable Care Act and its impact on Barack Obama’s presidency — and candidacy for reelection.

Toobin notes the advancing age of some of the current justices, as well as the fact that it never is known how many Supreme Court picks a president will get, if any. He discusses the the long-lasting legacy that a president’s choices may have.

“With a little more than a month to go, it’s not too late to ask the candidates to take a stand on their plans for the court,” Toobin writes. He concludes that “there are few more important things to know about our current and future presidents.”


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Article: Florida GOP Walks ‘Fine Legal Line’ on Anti-Retention

A Florida law, which has been the subject of conflicting court rulings, says partisan groups may not “endorse, support, or assist any candidate in a campaign for election to judicial office.”

The Republican Party of Florida, with its recent statement of opposition to retaining three state Supreme Court justices on the retention ballot this fall, is walking a “fine legal line” given the state law, a Florida Times-Union article reported.

A Republican Party spokesman said that the party is not violating the law because it is opposing, rather than endorsing, the judicial candidates. That argument was viewed as phony by others.

There was further, pointed commentary about the campaign to oust the three justices over a few controversial court rulings.

A Palm Beach Post editorial by Randy Schultz, editorial page editor, said, “Not only has the Republican Party of Florida joined the lynch mob going after three Florida Supreme Court Read more

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Retention Election a Front-Burner Topic in Florida

The debate over a judicial ouster drive in Florida is continuing to sizzle, although the retention election for three state Supreme Court justices is still weeks away:

  • “GOP should butt out of high-court decision,” warned an Orlando Sentinel editorial, addressing the Republican Party of Florida’s recent call to oust the three justices with whom it disagrees (see Gavel Grab).
  • “[I]t’s pure politics,” a Tallahassee Democrat editorial said about the ouster push, as it urged a vote for keeping the three judges on the bench.
  • “[Departing House Speaker Dean] Cannon lashes out at GOP critics and Florida bar in merit retention fight,” the Miami Herald reported. Cannon, a Republican, was sharply critical of the court and unsuccessfully pushed a legislative plan to overhaul the state’s highest court.
  • “Floridians should be scared to death,” former  Florida GOP Chairman Jim Greer cautioned, according to another Miami Herald article. The Republican Party, he said,  ”has no business interfering or attempting to manipulate the makeup of the Florida Supreme Court or the state’s judiciary.”
Read more

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Justice Stevens Prefers Life Tenure Over Judicial Elections

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, penning a book review for The New York Review of Books, makes clear his preference for the federal “rule” giving judges life tenure over the system used by those states that elect their judges.

“I firmly believe that the federal rule is by far the wiser one,” Justice Steven writes. “The point is illustrated by the recent decision of the Iowa electorate to remove state supreme court justices who had concluded that a state statute prohibiting same-sex marriage violated the state constitution.” This year, conservatives are seeking to oust a fourth Iowa Supreme Court justice over the same ruling (see Gavel Grab).

Justice Stevens further elaborated on his concerns about preserving judicial independence:

“Disciplining judges for making an unpopular decision can only undermine their duty to apply the law impartially. Indeed, as Sir Matthew Hale, a respected English judge, explained centuries ago, the duty to be impartial and to be indifferent to popularity is an essential attribute of the judicial office.”

Justice Stevens reviewed “Framed: America’s Fifty-One Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance” by scholar Sanford Levinson of the University of Texas Law School.

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Wisconsin Judge Gets Angry Letters and Emails Over Act 10 Ruling

Dane County Circuit Court Judge Juan B. Colas (photo) has received outraged letters and phone calls after ruling earlier this month against parts of Act 10, Wisconsin’s law that restricted collective bargaining for many public employees.

Judge Colas was accused of being a “cheap political hack for the Marxist Democratic Party” in one letter, and a “damned liberal activist kangaroo jurist” in another, reports the Wisconsin Law Journal.

Other angry individuals cited his race, and called Colas a “racist for belonging to the Wisconsin Hispanic Lawyers Association.” These comments followed in the wake of Gov. Scott Walker’s petition attacking Colas for his ruling (see Gavel Grab).

Chief judge of the Fifth Judicial Administrative District, Bill Foust, criticized the harsh responses to Colas’ ruling as well as Gov. Walker’s attacks on the judge.

“The judges that I know work hard and try to apply the rules of law to the facts at hand,” Foust said. “I think it’s unfortunate that the leader of the executive branch has so little respect for the third branch of government. People who work for the government should be respectful of our fellow branches of government.”

Lester Pines, an attorney representing labor unions in the Act 10 case, said that although he did not hold Gov. Walker responsible for the “racist sentiments” of callers and letter writers, he argued that Walker should be accountable for “his demagogic and unrelenting attack on the integrity of the judiciary.”

Cullen Werwie, a Walker spokesman, said that the governor still stood by Act 10 as a constitutional law, and that he was not responsible for the negative correspondence sent to Judge Colas.

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