Gavel Grab

Senate Confirms Two Nominees for Federal Judgeships

Las Vegas attorney Jennifer Dorsey was confirmed on Tuesday for a federal district judgeship in Nevada, as U.S. senators voted 54-41 along predominantly party lines.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was the only Republican voting for Dorsey, and Collins’ office did not comment afterwards.

President Obama nominated Dorsey in September, but action was temporarily frozen by Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. He did not publicly discuss the nomination for months before finally saying that he was not satisfied with her appointment.  Sen. Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, noted an essay she had written in law school praising the Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

In contrast, Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips was confirmed by a unanimous Senate vote on Monday, earning a seat on the Tenth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Phillips served as a Democratic state senator from 1993 to 1998.  Both of Wyoming’s U.S. senators, who are Republicans, spoke on the Senate floor in support of his nomination, according to The Casper Star Tribune.

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Nevada Judge Steps Aside Again in Light of Campaign Contributions

Nevada District Judge Brent Adams has recused himself from a case for the second time after concerns that campaign money he received from one of the parties created an “appearance of impropriety.” The case involves the AMERCO corporation, and Adams previously recused himself from another concerning the Whittemore Peterson Institute for Neuro-Immune Disease. Adams took $10,400 from Harvey Whittemore and associates during his 2008 campaign, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

Judge Jerry Polaha will replace Adams on the case, but critics have called for Polaha to step down because he also received campaign funds from Whittemore. Washoe District Court Chief Judge David Hardy said he is “very concerned” about these recent public links between judges and campaign money, leading to recusals.

“We elect our judges in Nevada,” Hardy said. “Campaign contributions are an important part of the electoral process. The Nevada Supreme Court has held, and the Code of Judicial Conduct confirms, that the mere receipt of a campaign contribution is not a disqualifying event.”

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First Asian Pacific American Confirmed to Nevada Federal Bench

The U.S. Senate recently confirmed Reno attorney Miranda Du as Nevada’s newest U.S. District Court judge, on a 59-39 vote. She becomes  the first Asian Pacific American to serve on the state’s federal bench, reports the Nevada Appeal. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had recommended Du, saying her life and work proved “the American dream is alive and well.”

Du was born in Vietnam and moved to the U.S. as a child, eventually attending college in California and joining a law firm in Nevada. Du’s confirmation received bipartisan support, but some detractors such as Senator Chuck Grassley were concerned about her qualifications. Those who did support Du, such as Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., said she will make an “outstanding” judge.

Diversity on the bench remains a pressing concern in some other states. A Muncie (In.) Star Press editorial says that currently no women serve on the state’s Supreme Court. Gov. Mitch Daniels had an opportunity to “rectify that oversight last week,” the editorial contends. Daniels appointed Mark Massa to the seat vacated by retiring Chief Justice Randall Shepard, picking Massa over two other finalists.

The editorial says that Daniels should have appointed a woman, since she, or a minority, would have a “set of experiences no white male can ever have.” Those experiences can have a significant impact on a judge’s decisions. Women make up half of the population and the high court should reflect some gender diversity, it says.

A Chicago Defender commentary decries the “indefensible lack of diversity” on the U.S. District Court in Chicago. Judge William J. Hibbler passed away recently, and he was one of only three African Americans serving on the federal bench in Chicago, writes Judge Diane M. Shelley, chair of the Illinois Judicial Council. Chicago has a large African American population, and racial diversity on the federal bench has remained an “elusive goal.”

“Racial diversity is an important virtue to building a court that is both excellent and respected by the general population,” Judge Shelley writes. The interaction of diverse viewpoints can foster impartiality and better understanding. The editorial concludes by appealing to Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., to recommend the appointment of qualified African American judges to the U.S. District Court and the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

The U.S. Senate also confirmed attorney Susie Morgan this week to the Federal District Court in New Orleans. Morgan was nominated nearly ten months ago by President Obama, according to a NOLA.com article. A less controversial candidate than Du, she was confirmed by a vote of 96-1.

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NV Justices Weigh Change to Campaign Limits

Will Nevada voters soon witness a political slugfest in judicial elections?

That’s the suggestion of a headline for a Las Vegas Review-Journal article. “Judges say they favor being able to take gloves off during elections,” the headline declares.

Here’s the heart of the report:

“The next cycle of judicial elections in Nevada could be nastier than usual if the Nevada Supreme Court eases restrictions on campaign behavior — a real possibility given recent decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court and last fall’s voter rejection of merit selection.”

The Nevada justices signaled their thinking, in favor of lifting limits on what judicial candidates can say and how they raise campaign cash, at a hearing on the future of the court’s Standing Commission on Judicial Ethics and Election Practices. An administrative opinion is expected from the court in upcoming months.

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States React to Caperton

  

Since the Caperton decision came down last week, the reaction from the states that have judicial elections, or may potentially have them, has been mixed.

Starting in West Virginia, where legislative options are being studied to prevent a situation like Caperton from happening again, the reaction was positive. West Virginia State Sen. Jeff Kessler, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary committee, said the U.S. Supreme Court decision would add some energy to the steps he has proposed, according to The Charleston Gazette.

Eric Velasco of The Birmingham News, in Alabama, states that the ruling will have little effect on Alabama’s nasty statewide judicial elections. Justice at Stake’s Charlie Hall was interviewed for this article, and his reasoning behind the lack of change was due to Alabama’s lack of transparency in campaign contributions. Hall said, “You can’t ask a judge to step aside if you don’t know where the money is coming from. Alabama needs to open the windows and let the sunlight in.”

This sentiment was shared by The Birmingham News editorial board, which wrote:

In Alabama, the impact of the Supreme Court ruling will be further diluted by the difficulty of identifying the source of campaign donations. The state allows contributions to be routed through a maze of political action committees. These PAC-to-PAC transfers are intended to hide the real donors and keep the public from learning about possible conflicts involving candidates and their campaign sugar daddies.

While the mood is skeptical in Alabama, the situation is more positive in Ohio. Read more

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5/23/08: Breakthrough in the Domestic Surveillance Debate, Guantánamo Trials Will not be Delayed, Nevada Lawyers Question Judges

At Supreme Court, 5-to-4 Rulings Fade, but Why? – The New York Times
Linda Greenhouse takes a look at why the Court is not as polarized as it was in the past.

Guantánamo Judge Won’t Delay Trials – The New York Times
Military judge will not delay Guantánamo trials.”

Lawmakers Near Agreement On Domestic Surveillance – Wall Street Journal
The issue of immunity for telecoms will be resolved with this possible agreement.

Attorneys most critical of judges’ knowledge of law – Las Vegas Review Journal
Attorneys in a Nevada county are very critical of some of their judges knowledge of the law.

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5/23/08: Breakthrough in the Domestic Surveillance Debate, Guantánamo Trials Will not be Delayed, Nevada Lawyers Question Judges

At Supreme Court, 5-to-4 Rulings Fade, but Why? – The New York Times
Linda Greenhouse takes a look at why the Court is not as polarized as it was in the past.

Guantánamo Judge Won’t Delay Trials – The New York Times
Military judge will not delay Guantánamo trials.”

Lawmakers Near Agreement On Domestic Surveillance – Wall Street Journal
The issue of immunity for telecoms will be resolved with this possible agreement.

Attorneys most critical of judges’ knowledge of law – Las Vegas Review Journal
Attorneys in a Nevada county are very critical of some of their judges knowledge of the law.

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5/13/08- The Media Wrap Up

5 Gitmo detainees to face 9/11 capital case – The Miami Herald
Gitmo trials start up in June, and the death penalty is now in play.
Read more…

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5/5/08 – The Late Edition of Media Monitoring

Explosion damages federal courthouse – San Diego Union Tribune
Their was an explosion at a San Diego Federal Courthouse this morning. Details in the link.

Read more…

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3/27/08: The Break from Wisconsin Edition

O’Connor: Clear policy needed for prisoners – The Winchester Star
Former Supreme, Sandra Day O’Connor is advocates for the need of better policy for Guantanamo detainees.

Panel endorses plan to change how Nevadans pick judges – The Mercury News
Nevada will no adopt the Missouri Plan when it comes to picking their judges.
Read more…

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