Gavel Grab

Archive for November, 2012

Fourth Vacancy Ahead on Appeals Court in Washington, D.C.

U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Sentelle has announced his intention to take senior status. The action creates a fourth vacancy on what is widely regarded as the nation’s second most influential court and again draws attention to the Washington politics that have stalled confirmation of nominees to it.

Judge Sentelle is chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. The Blog of Legal Times reported that the U.S. Courts website indicated he will take senior status in February.

Just last month, Gavel Grab mentioned that President Barack Obama is poised to become the first president in five decades to finish a full term in office without successfully placing a judge on the appeals court in D.C.

Senate Republicans filibustered Obama’s nomination of New York prosecutor Caitlin Halligan, whom Obama has nominated twice; his nomination in June of Justice Department official Sri Srinivasan is awaiting Senate action. Obama, who took office in 2009, did not make a nomination to that court until mid-2010.

The Wall Street Journal’s Law blog reported on Friday, “The [new] vacancy gives President Obama more opportunity to reshape the court. Of the court’s active judges, including Judge Sentelle, five were appointed by Republicans and three were appointed by President Clinton.” Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • On Tuesday, Charlie Rose interviewed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia regarding his latest book on how to properly interpret the law. The segment can be watched at The Charlie Rose website.
  • An arrest warrant has been issued for Texas Court of Criminal Appeals Judge Lawrence Meyers, reports the Austin-American Statesman. The warrant was issued over an unpaid traffic ticket.
  • In Wisconsin, Republicans tend to do significantly better in nonpartisan judicial elections, reports The Capital Times. According to the article, “liberal judicial candidates in nonpartisan contests perform significantly worse in the solidly Democratic city [Milwaukee] than candidates with the coveted ‘D’ next to their name.”

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Same-Sex Marriage Appeals on Court’s Conference List

The Supreme Court was scheduled to consider in private conference on Friday whether to take up any of a number of appeals touching on same-sex marriage. There was widespread news media anticipation of an announcement coming as early as Friday afternoon.

“The political, social, and legal stakes of this long-simmering debate will once again put the high court at the center of national attention,” CNN reported.

According to the Associated Press, the high court could choose not to focus on the constitutionality of same-sex couples marrying and instead zero in on a narrower issue: “whether Congress can prevent legally married gay Americans from receiving federal benefits otherwise available to married couples.”

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NY Times Editorial Pushes for ‘Targeted Killing’ Rules

A New York Times editorial seeks rules for the targeted killing of terrorists overseas — especially if they are American citizens — when the terrorists are not on a battlefield.

More than a year ago, a Times editorial judged it necessary to follow the rule of law and seek judicial review before targeting a U.S. citizen for assassination,  citing the recent armed drone killing of Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen (see Gavel Grab).

This week, the latest editorial also addresses another option:

“[I]f an American citizen operating abroad is targeted, due process is required. We have urged the formation of a special court, like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, that could review the evidence regarding a target before that person is placed on a kill list. Otherwise, the government should establish a clear procedure so officials outside of the administration are allowed to pass judgment on assassination decisions.”


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Commentary: Politics Drives NC Gov. Perdue’s Supreme Court Choice

It’s no surprise that politics has a part to play in determining whom North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue will appoint to take the place of state Supreme Court Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson, says a News & Observer editorial.

The editorial suggests that Timmons-Goodson chose to retire at this time so that Perdue, a Democrat, could select her replacement, instead of leaving it to the incoming Republican Pat McCrory. Perdue will be leaving office in January (see Gavel Grab).

North Carolina saw the effects of partisan politics on the judicial system most recently in the successful efforts of conservative individuals in the state to help re-elect Justice Paul Newby. Now, Republicans are criticizing Perdue for considering appointing a Democrat, the editorial says.  Read more

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Congrats to Gavel to Gavel for Well-Deserved National Recognition

Gavel Grab sends hearty congratulations to the Gavel to Gavel blog of the National Center for State Courts. It recently was named one of the ABA Journal Top 100 Blawgs (law blogs) of 2012.

Bill Raftery spearheads Gavel to Gavel, which is a staple among Gavel Grab’s own fair-courts news sources. The National Center for State Courts is a JAS partner group.


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Egypt: Threat to Courts a Target of Massive Street Protests

A recent decree by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, and its inherent threat to judicial independence, has sparked protests by tens of thousands in the streets of Cairo. The face-off between Egypt’s courts and its president has drawn international attention.

Last week, Morsi issued a decree exempting almost all of his decisions from judicial review until a new constitution, currently the subject of voting in a special assembly, is ratified. On Thursday, heavy street protests over Morsi’s action extended into a seventh straight day.

“Whoever does not respect the judiciary is not fit to rule Egypt,” one protestor in Tahrir Square,  Ekramy al-Sayed Abdou, told the Washington Post.

A spokesman for the Supreme Constitutional Court said, “The court will not be intimidated by any threats or blackmail and will not submit to any pressures practiced on it from any direction, regardless of its power and unity.” The court has authority to interpret laws and presidential decrees. Read more

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Federal Judge Outlines Occupational Hazards of Judiciary in his Book

In a Huffington Post blog, federal Judge Frederic Block describes the death threats that he and his colleagues face while sitting on the federal bench. Block writes about the threat on his life he received and those of other judges in his book, Disrobed: An Inside Look at the Life and Work of a Federal Trial Judge.

In his book’s chapter titled “The Risks,” Judge Block writes that several years ago he was informed by an F.B.I. agent of Anthony Casso’s threat to kill him. The agent informed him that the F.B.I. investigated “over 300 threats against Article III federal judges” on an annual basis.

Block says this prompted him to look into the history of death threats against federal judges. He says that the numbers have risen drastically in the last decade. In 2010, 1,400 threats were made against judges compared to 592 in 2003.

In the chapter, Block describes the assassinations of three federal judges: John H. Wood, Richard J. Daronco, and Robert Smith Vance.

Block says he was told by the F.B.I. that the death threat to him was classified as low risk, and he has received two others since then.  These threats made clear that “being a judge was no bed of roses,” he notes.

Block states that few significant changes have been made regarding safety conditions for judges; there are no protective barriers around his courthouse. The rise in threats signifies this as a time to take action, he says.

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Senate Outlook on Judicial Nominations: Still Uncertain

The latest developments regarding potential Senate action on pending judicial nominees were widely mixed:

  • Republican Sen. David Vitter of Louisiana, now that the presidential election is past, removed his personal block on the nomination of Shelly D. Dick for a judgeship in the Middle District of Louisiana, according to an Advocate article.
  • Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah signaled he would not resume an outright and uniform “No” vote policy on all judicial nominations that he launched in January, after four controversial recess appointments were announced by President Obama, according to the Blog of Legal Times.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee postponed on Thursday, until a later meeting, its votes on four federal district court nominees. According to a different Blog of Legal Times post, it was a delay “that has become routine and is now under fire from liberal groups calling for an end to the practice.” Read more

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New Jersey Governor Continues Effort To Remake Supreme Court

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie knows exactly who his next two nominations to the state Supreme Court will be, reports The Political State, a North Jersey blog.

While not prepared to reveal the names of his two candidates, Christie says that over the past two months he has had “regular conversations” with Senate President Steve Sweeney regarding the potential nominees.

“He’s fully informed as to the people I’ve been considering and the direction I’d like to move,” Christie said. “I will tell you that I made up my mind.”

Christie has mentioned his desire to lead the court in a more conservative direction before (see Gavel Grab). His last two nominees, both Republicans, were rejected by the Senate in order to “maintain a partisan balance on the court,” reports the article. Read more

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