Gavel Grab

Archive for June, 2013

Chief Justice Roberts to Appear in Live C-SPAN Interview

On Saturday, C-SPAN will broadcast live an interview with Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., following its broadcasting a panel of experts reviewing the latest term of the Supreme Court.

The events are tied to the Judicial Conference of the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, according to the How Appealing law blog, and the broadcast is scheduled to start at 9 a.m.

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Tension Between Seminars for Judges, and Perception of Fair Courts?

At Huffington Post, Katie Shay asks whether public trust in fair and impartial courts may be eroded when corporations and ideological groups sponsor educational seminars attended by judges.

Earlier this year, the Center for Public Integrity reported that about 185 federal judges sat in on one or more expenses-paid seminar between 2008 and 2012. The U.S. Judicial Conference has instituted a disclosure requirement related to such seminars. “Even with increased transparency, however, a fundamental tension exists between privately funded judicial education and the need for unquestionably impartial courts,” Shay writes.

She also reports on Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s recent statements about the need for greater professional diversity on the federal bench. Warren is a Massachusetts Democrat.

Shay works for the International Corporate Accountability Roundtable.


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Under New KS Judge Selection Law, Governor Scraps Transparency

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback will jettison more than three decades of precedent and keep secret the names of applicants for a state Court of Appeals opening, as he plans to appoint a new judge under a new selection law.

The legislature this year dismantled a judicial nominating commission process for helping to select Court of Appeals judges, and replaced it with a process mirroring the federal judicial selection model. Under this Kansas law, the governor appoints new judges subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Despite proposals to change it, a merit-based selection system for Kansas Supreme Court justices remains intact. Anne Burke, who heads the Supreme Court Nominating Commission, called it a disservice to veil the Court of Appeals nomination process in secrecy.

“It’s appalling and terrible,” she said, according to a Topeka Capital-Journal article. “Now, there is absolutely zero public input. Never in the history of Kansas have I seen a bigger executive branch power grab than under this administration.” Read more

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After Major Opinions, Supreme Court's Direction is Examined

After issuing a series of blockbuster rulings this week, the Supreme Court is coming under the lens of legal journalists seeking to identify trends from its term and possibly look into the court’s future.

A New York Times analysis was headlined, “Roberts Pulls Supreme Court to the Right Step by Step.” Wrote reporter Adam Liptak:

“Chief Justice [John] Roberts has proved adept at persuading the court’s more liberal justices to join compromise opinions, allowing him to cite their concessions years later as the basis for closely divided and deeply polarizing conservative victories.

“His patient and methodical approach has allowed him to establish a robustly conservative record while ranking second only to Justice Anthony Kennedy as the justice most frequently in the majority.”

“A conservative Supreme Court swerves to avoid easy definition,” declared a Washington Post headline. Reporter Robert Barnes called it “a court in which two men — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justice Anthony M. Kennedy — play outsize roles. They are the keys to understanding the court’s sometimes contradictory messages, and that will likely be the case so long as they serve together.

At USA Today, reporter Richard Wolf focused on the role of Justice Kennedy. The headline said, “From gay marriage to voting law, Kennedy is the key; Once again, the Supreme Court’s perennial swing vote shows how crucial he is to both liberals and conservatives — and how unpredictable.”

Reporter Jess Bravin’s analysis in the Wall Street Journal was entitled, “Court’s Session Told Tale of Two Justices.” Bravin wrote, “The eventful final week of the Supreme Court’s term showed that the court’s most important ideological struggle isn’t between left and right, but the narrower divide of Chief Justice John Roberts’s conservatism and a libertarian streak championed by Justice Anthony Kennedy.”


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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Iowa Supreme Court announced Thursday that it has approved a budget that will expand the hours for clerk of court offices around the state. According to The Associated Press, the new budget will open up forty new clerk positions and will keep offices open Monday through Friday.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court could potentially take up a case addressing the newest battleground in reproductive rights: abortion-inducing drugs. The New York Times reports that by asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court Thursday to clarify a ruling that struck down a law banning the drugs, the U.S. Supreme Court indicated its interest in potentially addressing the issue.
  • The highly secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court made an unprecedented step towards greater transparency last week. CNET reports that Reggie Walton, the presiding judge on the court, has offered to disclose procedural information concerning the data requests made to internet companies.
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In Oklahoma, Will Impartial Courts Face a New Attack?

Will defenders of Oklahoma’s merit-based selection system for preserving fair and impartial courts be forced to stand their ground soon against another attack?

An op-ed in the Oklahoma Gazette by Fred Morgan, president and CEO of the State Chamber of Oklahoma, voices unhappiness with a recent Oklahoma Supreme Court ruling and protests, “We should not allow legislating from the judicial bench.”

Going further, Morgan writes, “Perhaps it’s time to re-look at the power and authority of our Supreme Court, and indeed, our entire appellate structure of judicial review.”

Morgan also points to the findings last year of a State Chamber-backed organization, the Oklahoma Civil Justice Council. It evaluated judges on whether their decisions tended to restrict civil liability or expand it. Some attorneys questioned whether the Chamber was actually seeking to bully judges or politicize the courts.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court, in its recent ruling at issue,  invalidated a lawsuit reform law. The court ruled 7-2 the statute was unconstitutional because it violated what is called the state Constitution’s single-subject rule (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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Tennessee's Justice Holder to Retire; Confusion About Picking Successor

Justice Janice Holder, the first woman to serve as a Tennessee State Supreme Court Chief Justice, has announced her retirement.  Her announcement has come at a time when changes in the selection process for judges are both under way and under consideration, complicating and confusing procedures for filling her seat.

As noted by the Tennessean, Justice Holder’s announcement comes too late for the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission to suggest successors before the commission’s legal authority expires at the end of this month.  Spokespeople for Gov. Bill Haslam and the Administrative Office of the Courts have expressed that it is unclear how Justice Holder’s seat will be filled.

In the past, this commission has been responsible for interviewing appellate court applicants and recommending names to the governor, who in turn has selected one to appoint.   This past April, the Tennessee Legislature adjourned without renewing the state Judicial Nominating Commission, as discussed in Gavel Grab.

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • According to Minnesota Judge Frank Kundrat, many people know little about the court system or, what he calls, the “quiet third branch of government.” In a commentary for Echo Press, he attempts to rectify this by describing the different courts and roles of the state judicial system.
  • U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg spoke yesterday at the dedication ceremony for the American Bar Association’s new D.C. office. According to The Blog of Legal Times, Ginsburg praised the association’s work promoting the equality of women in the law. The American Bar Association is a Justice at Stake partner organization.
  • Pennsylvania’s Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously recommended the highest ranking judge on the state superior court Thursday to take the place of disgraced ex-Justice Orie Melvin on the state Supreme Court. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that, if confirmed by the Senate, President Judge Correale F. Stevens will serve on the bench until 2016, and could run for election in November 2015 to serve longer.
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In Wake of Marriage Rulings, More Pitched Battles Ahead Over Courts?

Some of the harshest attacks launched against  fair and impartial courts over single decisions were sparked by state judges’ votes on issues surrounding marriage for same-sex couples.

Now that the Supreme Court has issued two marriage rulings, some experts predict there may be more hard-fought court fights ahead, especially as advocates challenge state bans on marriage between same-sex couples.

Although the Supreme Court did not rule this week on a right to marriage, said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, its opinion striking down a key section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gives advocates of gay rights more fodder to challenge marriage bans.

“This is the beginning of a whole new round of jurisprudence,” Romero told the Chicago Tribune. “It’s enormously significant.”

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Law Scholar Finds N.C. Public Financing Program 'Indispensable'

North Carolina’s embattled law for public financing of judicial elections “is indispensable to public confidence in our state’s judiciary,” Paul Carrington (photo), a Duke law professor a former dean of Duke’s law school, says in a Herald-Sun op-ed.

The op-ed is entitled, “Public funding: Why N.C. courts aren’t for sale.” In it, Carrington delves further into case law cited by Art Pope, Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director, as rendering unconstitutional the use of attorneys’ fees for the public financing program. Gavel Grab mentioned earlier an op-ed in which the author disputed Pope’s characterization of the case as flat wrong.

According to Carrington, the 2009 Wake County Superior Court ruling “lends no support to Pope’s contention, and no appeal was taken from his ruling to a higher state court.” Read more

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