Gavel Grab

Archive for June, 2015

Opinion: Court ‘Shocking,’ ‘More Liberal,’ or Repairing Reputation?

washington-supreme-court-building-washington-d-c-dc169The analysis of the Supreme Court’s completed term has just begun. Not surprisingly, there’s disagreement about whether the court has turned more liberal; trended in favor of the powerful and wealthy; or engaged in rebuilding a damaged reputation.

Nan Aron of the left-leaning Alliance for Justice called the court’s rulings on Monday (see Gavel Grab) “shocking.” Aron said, according to Politico, “Last week was wonderful and no one can take away the victories that occurred, but I think it’s also important to understand those victories in a context [that] the court is one that continues to rule in favor of powerful and wealthy interests at the expense of most Americans. The decisions certainly today suggest that trend continues.”

“The numbers show that this is easily the most liberal term of the Roberts Court, and probably the last couple of decades,” SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein told Politico. “For all the talk of a conservative bloc, it was the more liberal Justices who hung together went it counted.” Read more

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Florida Revises Rules for Judges Seeking Retention

The Florida Supreme Court has adopted amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct that will allow appeals court judges to pool campaign resources if they face “active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office.”

The state Supreme Court decided to consider an update to the rules in 2013, the year after three justices were targeted for removal by conservative groups and survived the challenge to their retention elections, according to a Daily Business Review article. Entitled “How Citizens United Inspired Judicial Campaign Rule Update,” it is available by searching through Google. Read more

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Mother Jones Features JAS Campaign on Cruz’s Retention Proposal

To ponder how Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal for retention elections of Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab) would work, Mother Jones turned to the Justice at Stake Campaign.

JAS200K_5B8FD0A004489Campaign Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said, in the words of  Mother Jones, “that political attacks on the Supreme Court after controversial decisions aren’t new, and that the founding fathers gave federal judges lifetime tenure to protect them from exactly the kind of political pressure Cruz is hoping to apply.

“‘What kind of political campaigning and spending would there be if such a system would be put in place?’ Seaton asks. ‘It’s just hard to imagine just how much that would blow the system out of the water.’” Read more

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Brownback Assails Courts, Urges Changes to Selecting Judges

Gov. Brownback

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and two Kansas court rulings, on abortion and school funding, as politically driven and has called for a “more democratic” selection process for judges.

Earlier this year Brownback proposed changes to the way Kansas justices are selected, by either shifting to their direct election or to a Washington-style system of appointment by the chief executive and confirmation by the state Senate. The justices currently are chosen through a merit selection process.

The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Brownback’s latest views by relying on an email sent from his office to  people who have signed up for such communications. The email branded the nation’s highest court a judiciary “unrestrained by the rule of law.” Read more

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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article profiles Court of Appeals Judge Rebecca Bradley, who might run for the state Supreme Court next year.
  • A Houston Chronicle article about the impact of vacant federal district court judgeships was headlined, “Judgeship vacancies translate into delays.”
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Court Panel Strikes Down Block Grant Plan for KS School Funding

KansasA Shawnee County District Court panel struck down a block grant plan that the legislature turned to for funding public schools. Gov. Sam Brownback, in turn, said the judges exceeded their authority.

The new funding plan “does nothing to alleviate the unconstitutional inadequacy of funding,” the panel said, “but rather, exacerbates it,” the Topeka Capital-Journal said. Their decision set the stage for a possible showdown between the legislature, executive branch and courts.

The panel of three judges, Brown back said, “has now taken upon itself the powers specifically and clearly assigned to the legislative and executive branches of government.” He added, “In doing so, it has replaced the judgment of Kansas voters with the judgment of unelected activist judges.” Read more

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Justice at Stake Campaign Addresses Attacks on Court

The Justice at Stake Campaign took note on Monday of a crescendo of attacks on justices of the Supreme Court, in the wake of recent rulings that have generated extensive controversy. JASC Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said in a statement:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on health care and marriage last week have unleashed a torrent of political attacks, and today’s rulings may as well.  To date we have seen calls to impeach the justices or alter their terms of service, calls to strip the Court of its authority, statements urging public officials to disregard the rulings, and more.  Disturbingly, we have seen one presidential candidate call for ending the life tenure of Supreme Court justices, and another referring to the Court’s actions as ‘judicial tyranny.’

“These reactions are antithetical to the concept of fair and impartial courts.  Regarding life tenure, the founding fathers prescribed it for federal judges precisely  to allow judges to rule on the facts and the law, insulated from political pressure or threats of retaliation for a particular decision.  As to the other types of political pressure some are applying we say this: in our pluralistic society, there will always be decisions by the courts with which some disagree. For the courts to do their jobs, we need them to always resist pressure, intimidation and threats from politicians and partisans who want them to rule a certain way. Courts must be able to continue in the role we all rely on: as protectors and defenders of all our rights under the law and the Constitution.”

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Court Issues Opinions on Redistricting, Executions, Emission Limits

The Supreme Court remained in the forefront of the national news on Monday with rulings on state redistricting, lethal injections, and toxic emissions controls. For the next term, it agreed to look again at affirmative action.

Here are Associated Press articles on the decisions: “Justices uphold use of drug implicated in botched executions“;  “Justices uphold Arizona’s system for redistricting“; and “Supreme Court Justices Rule Against EPA Power Plant Mercury Limits.” The AP also reported, “Supreme Court will again hear challenge to affirmative action at University of Texas.“

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N.C. Justice to Seek Reelection by Retention in 2016

Justice Bob Edmunds of the North Carolina Supreme Court will take advantage of a new law and run next year for a new term in a retention, as opposed to a contested, election, the Associated Press reported.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, recently signed into law the measure pushed by a Republican legislature. It has attracted media attention nationwide as an example of a transparently partisan measure to stack a court with sympathetic judges.

This month, a Mother Jones article portrayed the change to state judicial selection law as tantamount to canceling the 2016 election (see Gavel Grab). Said  Melissa Price Kromm of the North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections Coalition, “It is a partisan, political power grab.” Justice Edmunds is a Republican. Read more

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Cruz Urges Retention Elections for Supreme Court Justices

ted-cruz-has-just-wrapped-up-his-epic-21-hour-defund-obamacare-talk-a-thonSen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, has fiercely criticized the Supreme Court over its recent marriage and health care act rulings and called for retention elections of Supreme Court justices.

Under the federal system for choosing judges, they get lifetime tenure in order to provide them independence and buffer them from prevailing political winds. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in 2012, after similar attacks on the courts during the presidential election season, that the U.S. court system “has served the nation quite well” (see Gavel Grab).

In an Iowa speech on Saturday, Cruz said, according to a Washington Post blog, “This week’s assault was but the latest in a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and Judeo-Christian values that have made America great.” The high court “has now forced the disaster of a health-care law called Obamacare on the American people and attempted to redefine an institution that was ordained by God.” In a National Review piece he called for up-or-down elections if a Supreme Court justice wants a new term every eight years, and if he or she were defeated, the justice could not serve on the high court again. Read more

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