Gavel Grab

Archive for August, 2015

Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that demonstrations are not permitted on the outdoor plaza in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, The Washington Post reported.
  • The New York Times had an article headlined, “Once a Pariah, Now a Judge: The Early Transgender Journey of Phyllis Frye.”
  • A judicial election website for Ohio,, now is operating and ought to be a help to voters, said an editorial in the (Northwest Ohio) Courier.
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Debate Continues Over Changes to MD Judicial Selection

Amid debate over eliminating elections for circuit court judgeships in Maryland, an editorial in The Aegis, a local newspaper published in Harford County, Md., finds good aspects about the existing hybrid system.

Currently the governor appoints circuit judges from candidates recommended by a screening commission, and if the judge seeks to stay on the bench he or she must then stand in what can be a contested election. In the Maryland legislature, a proposed constitutional amendment to remove the contested elections was introduced this year (see Gavel Grab). Read more

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‘Control’ of Impartial KS Courts at Issue, Lawyer for Judge Says

Kansas-Flag-2A lawyer for District Judge Larry Solomon of Kingman County, Kansas blasted in court the “tyrannical” actions of the Republican-led legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback. Solomon is challenging a 2014 law that removed the state Supreme Court’s authority to name chief judges in 31 judicial districts. 

Solomon also is challenging the legislature’s voting for a separate provision to defund state courts if they strike down the controversial administrative overhaul provision. Brownback signed both measures into law. “Their desire for control of the Kansas independent judicial system blinded their judgment and led them to pass laws creating a potential chaotic situation,” lawer Pedro Irigonegaray said, according to an Associated Press article about the Friday hearing. 

Solomon’s lawsuit is viewed by some legal experts as cutting “at the very heart of an independent judicial system,” the Lawrence Journal-World reported. But Stephen McAllister, the Kansas solicitor general, defended the actions as within the legislature’s legal authority. “There’s no precedent there saying there’s an inherent separation of powers … that the top court in the system must be able to choose every chief judge,” McAllister said, according to the Topeka Capital-Journal.  Read more

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Commentary: Political Tantrums Behind Attacks on FL Courts

Florida-Supreme-Court-Seal-300Republican leaders of the Florida Senate and House Judiciary committees have begun talking about court “reform.” But they’ve actually been talking about weakening the courts, in retaliation for the state Supreme Court’s correctly saying legislators gerrymandered political districts, Scott Maxwell writes in an Orlando Sentinel column.

This kind of attack on fair and impartial courts violates bedrock principles of the checks and balances upon which our nation was founded, Maxwell writes, and it smacks of legislators’ attacks on the Florida courts several years ago that were rejected by voters.

Maxwell doesn’t give up hope. Perhaps the leaders are reconsidering, he says. “I still have faint hope that statesmanship will prevail — that seasoned leaders such as [House Speaker Steve] Crisafulli and Senate President Andy Gardiner will realize that today’s tantrum-throwing politicians have no business trying to blow up the separation of powers that has guided this nation for generations. Read more

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Will Senate Leaders Break the Logjam on Judicial Nominations?

CapitolflagAt the Huffington Post, two separate commentaries address partisan politics in the stalling of judicial confirmations in the U.S. Senate and a model to cool the partisan political heat.

Judith E. Schaeffer of the Constitutional Accountability Center has the piece about partisan politics, headlined “Senate Leaders on Target to Break Obstruction Record.”

In the other piece, Peg Perl of Colorado Ethics Watch describes a bipartisan screening process used jointly several years ago by Colorado’s two senators for identifying potential judicial nominees for vacancies. But now, the state’s two senators have different screening committees, one of them is made up completely of Republicans, and things do not appear to be flowing as smoothly, Perl writes.

To learn about the record of the Republican-controlled Senate this year in confirming judicial nominees of the Democratic president, Barack Obama, see Gavel Grab.

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Ex-Judge Says He Was Target of Racial Harassment

A former elected Mississippi Justice Court judge, who recently was removed from his post by the state Supreme Court, has sued state and local officials in federal court and contended he was subject to racial harassment.

Ex-Judge Ricky Thompson, who is African American, said prominent whites tried to dump him from the bench since he became in 2004 “the first black person elected Justice Court judge in Lee County,” according to a Courthouse News Service article. During his judgeship, he said he “has suffered from intentional racial harassment from influential white persons who do not want a black person, who will make independent judicial decisions, rather than accept directions from white sheriff’s deputies and white justice court clerks as to the proper judicial ruling.” Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A New York Times article was headlined, “Clarence Thomas, a Supreme Court Justice of Few Words, Some Not His Own.”
  • reported that the Oklahoma Supreme Court, after ordering removal of a Ten Commandments marker from the capitol grounds, this week returned the case to a local judge for compliance. The high court’s ruling was greeted with impeachment threats from some legislators.
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Some US Judges Want Reassessment of Criminal Sentencing

Acting on their own, a number of individual federal judges are joining in a push to closely examine and in some cases curtail long prison sentences handed to defendants, the New York Times reports.

“The popular view in our country has changed — we don’t want to hold somebody down forever and ever,” District Judge Larry Alan Burns of southern California said. “I think judges should be aware of those things.”

Read more

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Analysis: Ginsburg, O’Connor Have ‘Judged in a Different Voice’

The author of a new book about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes in Slate that these jurists have “judged in a different voice” because of their life experiences as women.

“The law is not different for men and for women, and Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg were not morally different from their peers. But they had life experiences as women. And their lives made their work different,” contends Linda Hirshman.

Citing the justices’ records and questions asked in oral arguments, Hirshman says the two “brought a woman’s understanding to the job of judging.” Read more

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Politics Fuels ‘Growing Judicial Vacancy Crisis’ in Texas: Opinion

empty-bench1With another federal judge announcing his retirement and the state’s two Republican senators playing politics with a Democratic president, Texas “has become the epicenter of a growing judicial vacancy crisis,” a Fort Worth Star-Telegram op-ed says.

Natalie Knight of the Alliance for Justice wrote the op-ed, which is headlined, “Texas judicial vacancy flood means [Sens.] Cornyn, Cruz must act.” There are nine vacant federal judgeships in the state, and three of them have been unoccupied for more than three years. Seven have been formally deemed “judicial emergencies.”

“[John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz have a choice: Let the Texas vacancy crisis grow even worse, or start looking for the judges Texans desperately need,” Knight contends.

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