Gavel Grab

Archive for April, 2013

Obama Administration Asks High Court to Uphold Recess Appointments

On Thursday, the Obama administration urged the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold recess appointments he made to a labor agency, and strike down a lower-court ruling stating that the president overstepped constitutional boundaries when he made the appointments.

According to the Associated Press, the administration’s appeal relied on the argument that the decision undermines a presidential power that has been used for decades by presidents of both parties.

The lower court’s case stems from an appointment Obama made in January 2012 to the National Labor Relations Board (see Gavel Grab). USA Today says that the court’s decision could impact previous recess appointments from other presidents. Read more

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Countrywide, Court Officials Juggling New Funding Models

California’s judicial leaders are planning to implement a Robin Hood-style distribution of limited court funds by taking money going to courts in Northern California, and sending it to other courts throughout the state, reports the Silicon Valley Mercury News.

This shift in funding will likely impact the court’s ability to resolve civil cases quickly, the article says. The proposed plan is an effort to fix imbalances in funding state courts that have persisted throughout the years.

In San Bernardino County, courthouses have been shut down in an effort to save money, but those courts are about to receive an additional $13 million in funding under the formula. Read more

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PMC Executive Director Promotes Merit Selection on TV Panel

The Pennsylvania Cable Network’s Pennsylvania Neighborhoods program hosted a special panel recently on the state’s selection methods for judges.

Executive Director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, Lynn Marks, spoke during the panel on proposed efforts to change Pennsylvania’s system of judicial elections, according to a PMC press release. Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Sen. John Eichelberger (R), Sen. Anthony Williams (D) and Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Kathleen Wilkinson also spoke on the panel. Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Jane Kelly was unanimously confirmed to the U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals this week only 83 days after her nomination. Despite her relatively speedy confirmation, Senate obstruction of judicial nominees continues, argues Ian Millhiser in a ThinkProgress blog.
  • Russell Wheeler, a visiting fellow in the Broooking Institution’s Governance Studies Program, testified this week before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the federal judicial conduct and disability system. Click here to read Wheeler’s opening statement from the hearing on the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980.

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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.”

Read more

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Columnist Rips ‘Blue Slip’ Tradition, Calls for Change

The serious business of confirming qualified federal judges shouldn’t be subverted by abuse of a Senate tradition based on courtesy or abuse of the filibuster, Brent Budowsky writes in a scorching column for The Hill newspaper.

While the abuse of filibuster practices is a familiar topic for Gavel Grab readers, the tradition of the “blue slip” is a less-known topic. Under this tradition,  both home-state senators must signal their consent by giving “blue slips” before the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a confirmation hearing on a judicial nominee. 

A recent paper by Russell Wheeler of the Brookings Institution (see Gavel Grab) says senators invoking the home-state courtesy have played a significant role in the current judicial vacancy crisis. Budowsky mention’s Wheeler’s analysis and says the blue slip has become another tactic used in a partisan manner

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NJ Gov. Christie, Sen. Codey Trade Barbs on Judicial Nominations

New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie and Democratic state Sen. Richard Codey were pointing fingers again this week, each blaming the other for the judicial logjam in Essex County, states the New Jersey Star-Ledger.

Currently, there are 17 judicial vacancies in the county. Christie told the Essex County Bar Association at a breakfast meeting that “the reason we’re not appointing 12, 15 judges tomorrow in Essex County is because of Senator Codey.”

Codey argued back that Christie was at fault. “The governor could nominate judges today and get them through, but he doesn’t. He’s to blame. If he were Pinocchio, his nose would extend to Asia.” Read more

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Senate Confirms Appeals Court Judge by 96-0 Vote

The Senate confirmed Jane Kelly, an assistant public defender in Iowa, to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday by a 96-0 vote. Occurring 83 days after her nomination, it was the quickest confirmation of an Obama nominee to an appeals bench, the Blog of Legal Times said.

According to the (Eastern Iowa) Gazette, Kelly will become only the second woman to serve on the Eighth Circuit, and the first public defender to do so.

The Iowa Fair Courts Coalition applauded her confirmation and said in a statement, “Kelly’s breadth of experience as a public defender and her perspective as only the second woman to ever serve on the Eighth Circuit Court will bring valuable diversity to the bench that will benefit all people served by this court, including Iowans.”

The average waiting period for a noncontroversial circuit court nominee to travel from nomination to confirmation is 272 days, according to BLT blog. Partisan maneuvering has stalled numerous judicial nominees and blocked several others.

Read more

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Boston Marathon Bombing Suspect’s Lawyers Face Furloughs

Due to across-the-board budget cuts on the federal court system, the lawyers defending Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev are being forced to take three unpaid weeks off even as they prepare his defense, reports the Associated Press.

Federal public defender Miriam Conrad’s office in Boston was appointed to represent Tsarnaev, but her office will have to complete the three furloughed weeks before the end of September, the article says.

Public defenders in the trial for Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law requested that his case be delayed due to budget constraints (see Gavel Grab). U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan has called it “extremely troublesome” and “stunning” that these budget cuts are delaying prosecution.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Pennsylvania Senate Democrats submitted a short list of names to Gov. Tom Corbett to consider for a vacancy on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Newsworks reports that along with the list, Senate Democrats passed along a message that if Corbett selects one of the five names, that individual will be confirmed quickly.
  • According to the Associated Press, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) are sponsoring a bill that would require super PACs to identify their sources of money. In elections, voters “deserve to know where the money is coming from and where it’s going,” Wyden said in a statement.

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