Gavel Grab

In Vacant Federal District Judgeships, Report Sees ‘Crisis’

The Brennan Center for Justice released today a report addressing federal judicial vacancies and resulting unprecedented workloads that are currently burdening federal district courts.  The report identifies a “crisis” in the district courts and calls for President Obama and the Senate to find a way to fill crucial seats and address three urgent issues:

  • Judicial vacancies have remained high throughout Obama’s time in office, with annual vacancies averaging higher than during the previous administration.  After district court vacancies dramatically increased in 2009 they have continued to rise in number.  For the first time since 1992, the average number of district court vacancies has remained above 60 for five years in a row.
  • Heavy caseloads are a direct result of high vacancy levels, creating unprecedented workloads for sitting judges.  The number of pending cases per sitting judge (for both full-time active judges and part-time senior judges) reached an all-time high in 2009 and was higher in 2012 than at any point between 1992 and 2007.
  • High need districts, cited as having a greater number of judicial emergencies, have the most acute need for judges.  The number of judicial emergencies was higher in 2010-2012 than any other point since 2002, the last year for which comparable data is available. Read more

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Chicago Tribune Article Cites Justice at Stake

Special-interest donations and the courts are the topic of an in-depth article in Sunday’s Chicago Tribune. Reporter Tim Jones quotes Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, James Sample, counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, and Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general who has appealed a West Virginia Supreme Court ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court.

 Olson is arguing that a West Virginia justice was obligated to recuse himself from a case involving a West Virginia mining executive who had heavily financed the justice’s election campaign. Olson told the Tribune that a “line needs to be drawn somewhere to prevent a judge from hearing cases involving a person who has made massive campaign contributions to benefit the judge.”

The Tribune article is called “Special interests pour cash into judicial races.” You can also download Justice at Stake’s report, “New Politics of Judicial Elections in the Great Lakes States: 2000-2008, ” which is cited in the Tribune article.

  

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4/11/08: What the Blogs Are Saying

Judge Kaye Goes Big, Sues New York Over Judicial Pay – Law Blog
More coverage on Judge Kaye and her suing for a pay raise, for NY judges, on the Wall Street Journal.

Read more…

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4/3/08: The Daily Blog Postings


Judge Explains His Decision to Order Whites Out of Courtroom
– Law Blog – Wall Street Journal

Judge Arrington, of Georgia, explains why he had the talk with just African Americans in his courtroom. Very interesting read, with video.

Another day, another bit of proof: There’s no compromising on FISA. – Daily Kos
A bit of pessimism on a potential FISA compromise.

Time to Invoke the “Thurmond Rule” on Bush Judicial Nominees – Talk Left
Senators in Congress want President Bush’s judicial nominees appointed NOW!

On, Wisconsin…Supreme Court – National Association of Manufacturers
Reaction to the Wall Street Journal editorial. Also, Professor Althouse has her reaction to the article and the Wisconsin elections as well.

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New York Times: Lopez Torres “Blazing a Trail”

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The Supreme Court’s reversal of the lower court decisions in Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections was a major victory for the defenders of New York’s judicial selection status quo. As counsel to the plaintiffs, the Brennan Center, along with all those observers who understand the seamy realities of how New York’s system actually works in practice, was certainly disappointed by the decision.

That said, as we indicated in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Law Journal, the First Amendment claim rejected by the Supreme Court is just one chapter in an 87-year story. The battle to end the Byzantine process by which New York’s trial court judgeships are determined, will go on both legislatively and in the courts.

Today, a wonderful and deeply personal profile story in the New York Times looks at the remarkable woman and jurist behind the case that bears her name. The profile examines the courage of our lead plaintiff, whose story serves as a valuable reminder of why the fight for a truly accessible selection process is not only worth fighting, but is an essential component the larger struggle for truly fair and independent courts.

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New York Times: Lopez Torres “Blazing a Trail”

.
The Supreme Court’s reversal of the lower court decisions in Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections was a major victory for the defenders of New York’s judicial selection status quo. As counsel to the plaintiffs, the Brennan Center, along with all those observers who understand the seamy realities of how New York’s system actually works in practice, was certainly disappointed by the decision.

That said, as we indicated in an op-ed in Tuesday’s New York Law Journal, the First Amendment claim rejected by the Supreme Court is just one chapter in an 87-year story. The battle to end the Byzantine process by which New York’s trial court judgeships are determined, will go on both legislatively and in the courts.

Today, a wonderful and deeply personal profile story in the New York Times looks at the remarkable woman and jurist behind the case that bears her name. The profile examines the courage of our lead plaintiff, whose story serves as a valuable reminder of why the fight for a truly accessible selection process is not only worth fighting, but is an essential component the larger struggle for truly fair and independent courts.

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Justice at (Cheese)steak: Judicial Elections in Philadelphia

Only in Philadelphia!

The catchphrase popularized by boxing promoter Don King should be adapted to recount Philadelphia’s recent judicial elections. Last month, the City of Brotherly Love elected Willie Singletary as Traffic Court Judge despite $11,000 in traffic-related fines and penalties (which his father paid shortly before the primary) and having his license suspended until 2011. Philadelphia voters also played a major role in bumping Superior Court Judge Seamus McCaffrey up to the state’s Supreme Court: McCaffrey is best known for meting out hard justice to, shall we say…passionate Eagles fans in the bowels of Philadelphia’s now-demolished Veterans’ Stadium.

These newly elected interpreters of the law were chosen for different reasons. McCaffrey benefited, at least in part, from a level of name recognition unmatched among other candidates. Notwithstanding his solid track record in lower courts, his unique name, public appearances, and call-ins to sports talk radio stations enabled average voters to distinguish him from other candidate, for whom they likely had very limited information.

Read more…

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A December Blizzard in Wisconsin’s Judiciary

Forgive me the trope of playing good news against bad.

First, the good news: The launching of this blog is the latest example of Justice at Stake’s able efforts in serving the causes of judges, courts, and due process.

But now the bad: While the outside threats to judicial independence are serious and metastasizing, the unfortunate — and for this audience, uncomfortable — fact is that the de-legitimizing of America’s courts is at least partly an inside job.

When judges fail to police themselves, and when the judiciary fails to adequately police the judges who fail to police themselves, we all lose. For the most recent case in point, we turn to a blizzard of news amidst last week’s blizzards in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin serves as the latest reminder that bias and/or the appearance of bias is not limited to duck-hunting. Sometimes, as in the case of now-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, Annette Ziegler, it involves ruling on cases involving a bank that your husband helps to run, or ruling on cases involving a company in which you own $50,0000 in stock, or, one week ago today, sitting on a case involving an organization that spent $2 million — more than the total expenditures of your entire campaign — to help get you elected. The last of these instances led to a flurry of editorials in Wisconsin urging her to step down from the case, and even from the bench.

Justice at Stake readers know full well that Justice Ziegler is merely one recent and acute illustration of an increasingly chronic problem.

In almost every state in the country, including Wisconsin, the general standard on recusal closely mirrors that of the American Bar Association — namely that a “judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

For political candidates, money is oxygen. And in a $5 million race, $2 million buys a lot of breathing. So let’s take those words for a test drive: might it be reasonable to question Justice Ziegler’s impartiality?

Well, is today the launch of the JAS blog?

What to do? Along with Justice at Stake stalwarts like Charlie Geyh of the ABA, and Roy Schotland at Georgetown, we have been thinking hard about the critical need to strengthen the rules of recusal. The Brennan Center’s initial recommendations, which we will discuss in greater detail in future posts, are available here.

In addition to refining the recommendations, the next step is looking at implementation, and we welcome your ideas and suggestions. Because impartial courts are too fundamental for scenarios like Justice Ziegler’s to become the rule rather than the exception.

No comments

A December Blizzard in Wisconsin’s Judiciary

Forgive me the trope of playing good news against bad.

First, the good news: The launching of this blog is the latest example of Justice at Stake’s able efforts in serving the causes of judges, courts, and due process.

But now the bad: While the outside threats to judicial independence are serious and metastasizing, the unfortunate — and for this audience, uncomfortable — fact is that the de-legitimizing of America’s courts is at least partly an inside job.

When judges fail to police themselves, and when the judiciary fails to adequately police the judges who fail to police themselves, we all lose. For the most recent case in point, we turn to a blizzard of news amidst last week’s blizzards in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin serves as the latest reminder that bias and/or the appearance of bias is not limited to duck-hunting. Sometimes, as in the case of now-Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, Annette Ziegler, it involves ruling on cases involving a bank that your husband helps to run, or ruling on cases involving a company in which you own $50,0000 in stock, or, one week ago today, sitting on a case involving an organization that spent $2 million — more than the total expenditures of your entire campaign — to help get you elected. The last of these instances led to a flurry of editorials in Wisconsin urging her to step down from the case, and even from the bench.

Justice at Stake readers know full well that Justice Ziegler is merely one recent and acute illustration of an increasingly chronic problem.

In almost every state in the country, including Wisconsin, the general standard on recusal closely mirrors that of the American Bar Association — namely that a “judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned.”

For political candidates, money is oxygen. And in a $5 million race, $2 million buys a lot of breathing. So let’s take those words for a test drive: might it be reasonable to question Justice Ziegler’s impartiality?

Well, is today the launch of the JAS blog?

What to do? Along with Justice at Stake stalwarts like Charlie Geyh of the ABA, and Roy Schotland at Georgetown, we have been thinking hard about the critical need to strengthen the rules of recusal. The Brennan Center’s initial recommendations, which we will discuss in greater detail in future posts, are available here.

In addition to refining the recommendations, the next step is looking at implementation, and we welcome your ideas and suggestions. Because impartial courts are too fundamental for scenarios like Justice Ziegler’s to become the rule rather than the exception.

No comments