Gavel Grab

Archive for May, 2014

Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The deal-making that resulted in New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recently reappointing state Chief Justice Stuart Rabner got mixed reaction from a panel of judge and lawmakers at a public forum, The Record reported.
  • Statistician experts are asking whether U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito made at least two mistakes in statistical data in a dissent he wrote to a death penalty case this week, according to the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.
  • The Florida Times-Union had an article headlined, “Florida Supreme Court passes on deciding whether successor to Jacksonville chief judge should be elected or appointed.”
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Editorial: 'No Place for Politics' in Choosing Tennessee Justices

A partisan effort to remove three Tennessee Supreme Court justices from the bench is totally misguided because “[t]here simply is no place for politics in the judicial system,” a Jackson Sun editorial declares. “Judicial impartiality is critical to public trust in the law and the courts.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s effort to persuade voters to remove the three justices in August retention (yes-or-no) elections has triggered a firestorm (see Gavel Grab), with some critics denouncing what they see as a politically motivated purge. Ramsey is a Republican. The three justices were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

Ramsey wants to see a five-member court appointed by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in place so that when the court names a new attorney general, a Republican likely would be picked. If the targeted justices were defeated in August, Haslam would appoint their successors. He has appointed one Read more

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Louisiana Voters Will Weigh Ending Judicial Retirement Rule

As a result of action by the Louisiana legislature, state voters will weigh in November whether to lift a restriction that judges may not run for the bench after they reach the age of 70.

According to the Times-Picayune, supporters of the proposal to change the state’s constitution contend that judges should not be treated differently than other elected officials.

The ballot question, according to Gavel to Gavel, will ask the following:

“Do you support an amendment to remove the constitutional requirement that a judge retire upon attaining the age of seventy or, if his seventieth birthday occurs during his term, that he retire upon completion of that term? (Amends Article V, Section 23)” Read more

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Controversy Continues Over Senate's 'Blue-Slip' Tradition

As home-state U.S. senators apparently step up their use of the “blue-slip” process to fight some of President Obama’s judicial nominees, an overwhelming majority of the judicial vacancies for which there is no nominee now exists in states with at least one Republican senator.

This trend was identified by a NPR report, based on data compiled by Russell Wheeler of The Brookings Institution. “Almost 90 percent of all the judicial vacancies still awaiting nominees are now in states with at least one Republican senator,” NPR said.

Under the Senate “blue-slip” tradition, Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy requires consent from both senators in the state where a judicial nominee will sit before the committee agrees to hold a confirmation hearing. The tradition effectively “gives virtual veto power over judicial nominations to home state senators,” according to NPR. The tradition Read more

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Thursday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The New York Times reported the passing of Harold Baer Jr., “a federal judge in New York whose expansive interpretation of civil liberties drew intense criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike and became a partisan issue in President Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign in 1996.”
  • Responding to an earlier op-ed criticizing judicial elections (see Gavel Grab), Los Angeles (California) County Superior Court Judge Randolph M. Hammock has defended them in the Los Angeles Times, emphasizing the transparency they afford.
  • “Complaint filed against Clark County judicial candidate over contributions,” the Las Vegas (Nevada) Review-Journal reported.
  • When Florida Gov. Rick Scott names a batch of new members for judicial nominating commissions, a South Florida Times editorial said, “it will do well for Mr. Scott to make an effort to shed the image of a governor who has no interest in having a judiciary that reflects the composition of his state.”
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Greenhouse: Is High Court Itself an 'Engine of Polarization'?

Legal analyst Linda Greenhouse is adding her voice to those recently lamenting the extreme polarization of the U.S. Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab). In a New York Times op-ed, Greenhouse suggests the court’s polarization is more than a reflection of polarized politics in the United States:

“[I]t occurs to me to wonder if the flow might also be running in the other direction. I wonder whether the Supreme Court itself has become an engine of polarization, keeping old culture-war battles alive and forcing to the surface old conflicts that people were managing to live with. Suppose, in other words, that instead of blaming our politics for giving us the court we have, we should place on the court at least some of the blame for our politics.” Read more

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A New Push for 'Dark Money' Disclosure in Texas

All members of the House State Affairs Committee in Texas have signed a letter urging the Texas Ethics Commission to use its rule-making authority to adopt a “dark money” disclosure rule.

dark_money_email_image“We believe the public has a right to know who is spending money to influence elections — and that the integrity of our electorate depends on disclosure so that the electorate can be fully informed,” the letter said.

“We DO NOT support requiring disclosure of all donors to non-profit organizations. However, we believe that the commission can, under current law, require disclosure of donors and their contributions, if those contributions are used to make direct campaign expenditures as defined by the Election Code.” Read more

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Opinion: U.S. Judicial Vacancies in Texas at 'Crisis Point'

Judicial-VacanciesWith eight U.S. district court judgeships vacant in Texas and two more vacancies coming, the ability of sitting federal judges to fulfill their constitutional responsibility is threatened and at “a crisis point,” retired U.S. District Judge Royal Furgeson writes in an Austin American-Statesman op-ed.

There are a total of 52 trial court judgeships in the state. Sitting judges are working at a 120 percent capacity to handle their own heavy loads and those of others. With a potential vacancy rate of one out of every five judgeships, the courts are crippled, Judge Furgeson suggests:

“Imagine if the Dallas Mavericks or the San Antonio Spurs or the Houston Rockets played their games with only four players on the court. Things wouldn’t go well. Neither will things go well in our federal courts if these vacancies persist.” Read more

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Praise, Criticism for Christie's Renomination of Chief Justice Rabner

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent decision to reappoint state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (see Gavel Grab) is playing to mixed reviews.

Numerous defenders of impartial courts had warned Christie earlier that if Chief Justice Rabner was not reappointed, thereby granting him tenure, it would damage judicial independence. The Times of Trenton applauded Christie’s decision in an editorial: Read more

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Tennessee Lawyers Rally to Support Targeted Justices

A push by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and some fellow Republicans to oust three Tennessee Supreme Court justices is meeting resistance on several fronts from lawyers.

The Nashville Bar Association issued this week a resolution urging its members to support the trio when retention elections are held in August, The Tennessean reported. And former Supreme Court Chief Justice Frank Drowota and several other attorneys met with the newspaper’s editorial board to lay out their concerns regarding the ouster effort.

“To have politics come into the courts makes absolutely no sense,” Justice Drowota said. “You don’t want a politicized court. You want a fair, impartial court.” He characterized the campaign as a partisan effort to stack the court; the three justices were appointed by former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. Read more

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