Gavel Grab

JAS Welcomes Court Ruling on Campaign Contribution Limits

The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed on Tuesday a lower-court order that struck down campaign contribution limits in Montana, and Justice at Stake applauded “a victory for fair and impartial courts and the people of Montana.”

jas_logoThe three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit remanded the case of Lair v. Bullock back to the lower court, finding that the lower court had not used the correct standard of review in its initial ruling. The ruling on Tuesday keeps in place campaign contribution limits set by Montana, which apply to elections including state judicial elections.

JAS Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said in a statement, “These limits provide essential protections in our justice system when judges are elected. It is important to prevent the kind of outsized donations by a single lawyer, group or party that run the risk of influencing courtroom decisions.” Read more

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Alabama’s Moore Floats Idea of Impeaching U.S. Justices

set-5a-color-roy-moore-chief-justice-14825913jpg-df54fe1459ae944bIn a talk with a conservative host, Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore floated the idea of Congress launching impeachment proceedings if U.S. Supreme Court justices weighing a marriage equality decision “disobey” the U.S. Constitution.

The interview with Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins was posted by Right Wing Watch, a project of People for the American Way. Chief Justice Moore said that U.S. Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan had performed marriage rites for same-sex couples. He went on to quote from a news article reporting that when Justice Ginsburg did so recently, she said she was doing so by powers vested in her by the U.S. Constitution.

Chief Justice Moore said, “She is doing it in the face of plain evidence that she is violating the ethical rules set for federal judges.” Justice Ginsburg was commenting on the issue that is before the court in a pending case, he said. He also registered his own view that the U.S. Constitution does not mention marriage. When asked by Perkins if Congress has a responsibility to act, Chief Justice Moore said yes.

“If Congress is going to let these justices disobey the Constitution they are sworn to uphold, then Congress has a check and a balance. It’s called impeachment,” he said. Huffington Post reported, “Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore Wants Ruth Bader Ginsburg Impeached.” Read more

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Report: WI Justice Suspected of Violating Campaign Finance Law

Wisconsin_flag_mapAs the fractured Wisconsin Supreme Court continues to be in the media spotlight, it has been reported that one of its justices — who is unnamed — is suspected by prosecutors of having violated campaign finance law by coordinating his or her campaign with independent groups.

Mother Jones mentioned the allegation based on redacted documents in legal proceedings. The documents were filed by a special prosecutor seeking to get at least two justices to step aside from hearing challenges to a campaign finance investigation (see Gavel Grab). The investigation has examined whether the campaign of Gov. Scott Walker worked illegally with conservative groups backing him when recall elections were held in 2011 and 2012. Read more

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider a legal challenge to a Texas redistricting plan, and the justices will weigh defining more explicitly what the “one person, one vote” standard means in this context, the Washington Post reported.
  • The Associated Press reported from Billings, Mt., “Court asked to reverse order preserving judge’s emails.” Gavel Grab has background.
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Hold on Obama Immigration Action Stands, For Now

A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to lift a lower court-ordered hold on President Obama’s executive action to protect as many as five million immigrants in the United States from deportation.

U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Texas had entered the injunction in February, and he was widely denounced for it in some quarters (see Gavel Grab). The Obama administration is appealing his order and asked that in the meantime, the program be permitted to proceed. Oral arguments on the merits of the litigation are tentatively planned for July, according to the Associated Press.

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AR Justice to Retire, and a Campaign to Succeed Him is Launched

stock-footage-arkansas-flag-loopJustice Paul Danielson of the Arkansas Supreme Court, who is 69, announced he will retire when his term ends in January 2017. He mentioned state law that prohibits a judge from serving past the age of 70 without giving up retirement benefits.

Justice Danielson has generated controversy recently. According to the Associated Press, he “accused other justices of unnecessarily delaying a decision on whether to legalize gay marriage.”

Not long after Justice Danielson made his announcement, Circuit Judge Shawn Womack opened his campaign for the high court seat. A former Republican state legislator, he pushed in that role for legislation to bar same-sex couples from adopting children, according to Arkansas Online. In more recent years he has said he respects the separation of powers among the branches of government, including the judiciary.

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Focus Turns to November Elections for PA Supreme Court

Looking ahead to Pennsylvania Supreme Court elections in November, media analysts are finding numerous ways to evaluate the upcoming contest and its impact.

“The results of the Nov. 3 general election could reaffirm or widen the court’s Republican majority, matching solid GOP control of the state Senate and House of Representatives, or, for the first time in six years, transfer control to Democratic allies of Gov. Tom Wolf, who could be in office through 2022,” WTAE reported on the heels of last week’s primary election. Six nominees were selected for three open seats.

The Legal Intelligencer had an article headlined, “After Primary, No Chance of Racial Diversity on High Court,” available through Google searching. Although two minority judges ran in the primary, they did not win, and all of the nominees are white. Read more

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Are Kansas Courts Facing ‘Extortion’ Try by Legislators?

A chorus of critics is finding fault with the Kansas legislature for efforts to link judicial branch funding with how Kansas courts rule on an administrative overhaul measure written into law earlier.

welcome-to-kansas“Sounds a little like extortion, or at least a lesser included offense, doesn’t it?” asked Martin Hawver in a commentary by Hawver News Co.

“The legislature is also on the verge of passing a bill to de-fund the state’s court system in the event that the state supreme court does not rule the way the legislators want, regarding the appointment of lower-court judges. This is a real bill that may pass, not a parody from The Onion or The Daily Show,” wrote Michael A. Smith, who teaches political science at Emporia State University, in the Hays Post. Read more

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From Both Sides, Presidential Candidates Assail Supreme Court

Presidential candidates from both parties are finding plenty to snipe about the Supreme Court, whether they are targeting an expected decision on marriage equality or the court’s Citizens United ruling.

Bloomberg Politics caught up this week on what the candidates have been saying on the campaign trail, which Gavel Grab has mentioned earlier in installments. Bloomberg Politics also reported some new remarks by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, a Republican, who told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace that the Supreme Court has overreached its legal role. When asked how far he would take that view, Huckabee volunteered:

Then, what if the Supreme Court ruled they were going to make the decision as to who was going to be the next president and save the taxpayers and voter from all the expense and trouble of voting, and they’ll just pick a president? Well, we would say, ‘Well, they can’t do that.’ Why can’t they do it? They can’t do it because it’s not in the law.”

Read more

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Merit Selection System in Missouri is Praised by Editorial Board

In a lengthy editorial about the need for reform of the municipal court system in Missouri, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch praises the state’s merit selection system for choosing top judges.

The editorial notes prominently that former Missouri chief justice Edward D. “Chip” Robertson Jr. is a member of a working group assigned to study the municipal court system and recommend any needed fixes. It salutes Judge Robertson as one who fought valiantly to defend the “Missouri Plan,” as the merit system is called, from attacks:

“In states where judges run in partisan elections (and in circuit courts in outstate Missouri), their campaigns are funded by the very lawyers and corporations who have interests before them. A state Supreme Court race, as in Illinois, can cost millions. In fighting for the merit plan, Judge Robertson protected the integrity of the Missouri court.”

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