Gavel Grab

Archive for May, 2015

Commentary: When the Courts Shine Light on ‘Dark Money’

In some cases, the sources of what is called political “dark money” are disclosed because of action in the courts, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy writes in a commentary published at the Brennan Center for Justice website.

Among the examples cited by Torres-Spelliscy are sunlight on two dark money groups that had concealed spending sources for two California ballot initiatives; sources of money for a dark money group that were disclosed after a judge’s order in Montana; and a lawsuit settlement in New York that led a semiconductor company to agree to disclose its political spending.

Torres-Spelliscy’s views are her own. The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Comments are off for this post

U.S. Judicial Ethics Watchdog is Proposed by Grassley

Sen. Grassley

Sen. Grassley

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has recently introduced the Judicial Transparency and Ethics Enhancement Act, to establish an Office of Inspector General for the judicial branch.

At the Constitution Daily blog, longtime Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston reflected on the legislation and its goals and authority, and he asked:

“[W]here in the Constitution does Congress derive the power to create, within the judiciary, an independent office that has quite conspicuous power to regulate the behavior of judges, and, especially, of Supreme Court Justices? Can such a power be extrapolated from the explicit powers that Article II gives to Congress? Is it related to the funding power? Or to the power to legislate, within limits, how the courts are to function? Or does it come under that open-ended power that Congress always claims and sometimes abuses, the power of ‘oversight’?”

Read more

Comments are off for this post

Wisconsin Court Feuding Extends to Hiring Director

Not only are Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices fractured over who ought to be chief justice (see Gavel Grab), but now there is division over the court’s hiring of a temporary top administrator for the court.

“Supreme Court justices spar over hiring of court director,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The mini-ruckus follows voter approval of a constitutional amendment drafted by Republican legislators to change the way the chief justice is selected, and subsequently an email vote by the court’s conservatives to replace Justice Shirley Abrahamson, a liberal, with Justice Pat Roggensack, a conservative, at the court’s helm.

Comments are off for this post

Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • Retiring Justice Alan Page of the Minnesota Supreme Court was to receive on Friday an award from the Ramsey County Bar Association for his work for diversity and fairness in the courts, MinnPost reported.
  • David Bornstein wrote in the New York Times Opinionator blog about the “‘participatory defense’ movement — community organizing that empowers people who face charges, as well as family and community members, to influence the judicial process.”
Comments are off for this post

Brandenburg of JAS to Head Appleseed; Seaton Interim JAS Director

Brandenburg

Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake’s executive director since 2004, will leave JAS in mid-August to become president of Appleseed, a national network of public interest law centers, the JAS Board of Directors announced on Friday. Liz Seaton, an attorney and JAS’s deputy executive director, will become the JAS interim executive director later this summer.

“It is with tremendous reluctance and gratitude for Bert’s many years of service that the Board has accepted his resignation,” said JAS Board Chair Mark Harrison. “Bert has been with Justice at Stake since its inception, and built the strong foundation on which the organization stands today and on which Justice at Stake can continue to fight effectively to preserve fair and impartial courts. As executive director, he established Justice at Stake as the national leader in the fair courts field. While we will miss him, his leadership of Appleseed will strengthen its partnership with JAS and add vigor to the fair-courts movement that Justice at Stake helped build.”

Seaton

Seaton

Brandenburg said, “It’s bittersweet to leave Justice at Stake after 14 years, but I’m proud of what we’ve done together: built a movement from scratch, put the fair courts issue on the national map, and won and defended reforms to keep courts fair and impartial. During that time, Justice at Stake has grown from four staff to more than a dozen, more than tripled its budget and recruited dozens of partners and allies to the fair courts cause.” He added, “Justice at Stake is poised to move forward with the fair courts field in our common crusade to preserve impartial justice.” Read more

Comments are off for this post

N.C. Senate Tentatively Approves Retention Election Measure

The North Carolina Senate  has given tentative approval to legislation that would have sitting state Supreme Court justices seek a new term through a retention (yes-or-no) election.

“Retention elections are one approach states have used to cut down on expensive judicial campaigns, which can require justices to raise money from those who could bring cases before the court,” WRAL.com reported about the legislation, which received tentative approval from the Senate on Thursday.

Under the legislation, the retention elections first would be held in 2016, when one justice is expected to face re-election. WRAL said the legislation itself was not very controversial, but the timing in it was moreso, as a Democratic critic said it appeared to provide protection to that justice.

Comments are off for this post

Diversity on Bench is Boosted in Connecticut

Since Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy took office in 2011, he has nominated 47 judges to the state Superior Court and 30 percent of them have been minority appointees.

According to a CT Mirror article, the increased diversity of appointees to the bench not only reflects a commitment by the governor to diversity but also “nearly two decades of effort by the judiciary and legal profession to demystify the process and broaden the pool of potential judicial candidates.”

Connecticut has a merit selection system for choosing judges. Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.

Comments are off for this post

Opinion: Ginsburg Within Rights to Officiate at Same-Sex Weddings

RespondingA general view of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington to remarks by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore about marriage equality, the U.S. Supreme Court, and impeachment (see Gavel Grab), ThinkProgress blog has published a lengthy reply.

It makes no sense to talk of impeaching U.S. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg because she officiated at the marriages of same-sex couples, said the liberal blog, explaining as follows:

“The same-sex weddings Ginsburg has officiated were all conducted in Washington, DC, where it was legal for the couples to marry. Ginsburg was certainly correct that the Constitution vests her with judicial power, and DC law allows any ‘judge or retired judge of any court of record’ to officiate a marriage ceremony. Ginsburg was simply performing one of her official duties, administering the law as befits her constitutional title. Furthermore, she made no public comment on whether the couples were entitled to those marriages under the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, the actual question at stake in the same-sex marriage cases.”

Read more

Comments are off for this post

LA Judge Asked to Recuse Based on Campaign Expenditures

gavel_cash-300x202Attorneys for ExxonMobil Corp., BP America Co., Chevron Corp., and several independent energy companies have asked Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes to step aside from participating in review of two environmental cases, due to campaign spending by trial lawyers.

The Louisiana Record reported that the energy companies said plaintiffs’ lawyers made a series of campaign donations to a PAC that supported Hughes’s election in 2012 while the two cases were pending, and as a result, the oil companies’ right to due process was compromised. The plaintiffs’ lawyers spent almost $400,000 to help Hughes win election, according to the recusal motions.

The PAC’s spending captured attention at the time of the 2012 election (see Gavel Grab). Louisiana Record, a legal publication, is owned by the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform.

Comments are off for this post

Justice Abrahamson Takes Her Case to Federal Appeals Court

In the latest chapter of an ongoing fight over who will lead the Wisconsin Supreme Court, a justice who was on the losing end of a recent, temporary federal court ruling is appealing it.

In mid-May, U.S. District Judge James Peterson declined  to block Chief Justice Pat Roggensack from holding that title while Justice Shirley Abrahamson pursues litigation claiming title to the top job (see Gavel Grab). Read more

Comments are off for this post

Next Page »