Gavel Grab

Majority of Kansans Favor Current Merit Selection of SC Justices

Justice at Stake released new polling data today that shows the majority of Kansans favor the current merit-based system for choosing state Supreme Court justices.

Key findings of the new poll of 898 likely voters shows: 

  • A whopping 76 percent oppose moving to a federal-style system, like the system recently pushed through the legislature for the court of appeals, for the state Supreme Court. Only 14 percent support such a move. Opposition to this proposal has increased since Justice at Stake first asked the question in January 2013, when 61% of voters rejected such a constitutional change.
  • Only 31 percent support amending the constitution to provide for contested elections for Supreme Court justices and only 32 percent support increasing the vote required in order for justices to retain their seats to 67 percent.

Meanwhile, an opinion piece in The Garden City Telegram argues that attempts to change the selection process are a power grab by Gov. Sam Brownback who is unhappy with recent school finance rulings.

“…Kansans should be appalled by the governor’s disregard for an independent judiciary, separation of powers and checks and balances.”

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Washington Post: SCOTUS Image at Risk in Obamacare Case?

111002075249-supreme-court-building-story-topKing v. Burwell, a case the Washington Post’s Robert Barnes writes could “neuter” the Affordable Care Act, will be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court later this week  – and could undo the Chief Justice’s efforts to uphold a nonpartisan reputation for the Court, according to Barnes.

In a piece headlined “Obamacare threatens to end John Roberts’s dream of a nonpartisan Supreme Court,”  Barnes notes that the ACA, also known as Obamacare, survived an earlier Supreme Court challenge when Chief Justice Roberts sided with other justices who viewed the Act’s individual mandate as a Constitutionally defensible tax.  That ruling, along with several unanimous decisions of the Court in recent months, has been held up by some as evidence that the Court can function as a truly nonpartisan body.  That’s a reputation that is strongly desired by the Chief Justice, Barnes writes.

But some analysts suspect that this latest challenge to the ACA might change all that. On the left, analysts who believe Roberts might take part in a ruling that guts Obamacare say that would be evidence of a politically biased Court.  Meanwhile, conservatives sharply criticized Roberts for his last Obamacare ruling. Barnes writes that in the superheated political climate surrounding King, Court-watchers could see the demise of a personal Roberts vision of the Court, as “somehow exempt from the partisan fugue that long ago enveloped Washington.”

 

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Marriage Equality in the Courts: Nebraska, Utah and Mississippi

A federal judge overturned Nebraska’s ban on same-sex marriage on Monday. The ruling is set to take effect in a week, but according to the Associated Press the attorney general’s office immediately appealed the decision to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Bataillon emphasized the “psychological harm and stigma” same-sex couples and their children face “as a result of the non-recognition of their marriages” in his ruling, as well as the material benefits they are denied. Bataillon issued a similar injunction in 2005, but the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated it in 2006.

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Justice Scalia: Diversity ‘has nothing to do with our jobs’

Justice-Antonin-ScaliaLast week, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia gave an interview at the Fort Smith Convention Center, where he spoke candidly about diversity and Originalism, the belief that the Constitution should be read as the Framers intended.

The City Wire reports that during the question-and-answer portion, junior high school student Selena Ellison asked Justice Scalia his thoughts about diversity on the bench. “I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Scalia responded, noting that the Framers did not intend the Court to be a representative body. He later revised his answer, saying “I shouldn’t have said that (it’s not a good idea), but it (diversity) has nothing to do with our jobs.”

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BREAKING NEWS: IL Supreme Court Justice Ordered to Testify

Justice Karmeier

Justice Karmeier

In a rare occurrence, Illinois Supreme Court Justice Lloyd Karmeier has been ordered to testify in a civil case that involves State Farm Insurance’s involvement in his election campaign.

According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Karmeier can be questioned under oath, “as to his knowledge concerning all aspects of his campaign including his decision-making process for running for the position in the first place and the persons with whom he consulted to make that decision, how the campaign was managed, how the campaign was financed, who was involved in the decision-making and strategy of the campaign.”

Karmeier has also been in the spotlight recently for his alleged ties to the parent company of Philip Morris USA, which has a multibillion-dollar case before the state Supreme Court. He has been asked to recuse himself from that case (see Gavel Grab.)

The State Farm case was filed in 2012 in U.S. District Court in East St. Louis and seeks $8 billion in damages.

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KS Supreme Court Chief Justice Advocates for Merit Selection

Chief Justice Nuss

Chief Justice Nuss

Kansas Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss cites a former Texas Chief Justice in his argument for keeping the merit selection system for Kansas Supreme Court judges.

In an op-ed in The Wichita Eagle, Nuss notes that the Kansas legislative and executive branches have expresses admiration for many things “Texan,” which might have something to do with the attempts to eliminate merit selection.

Chief Justice Nuss agrees with an opinion piece co-authored by former Texas Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who has “firsthand, conservative-credentialed, in-depth knowledge of elections for Supreme Court justices.”

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Ohio Chief Justice’s Reform Proposals Lack Political Will

Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor

Ohio Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor met with the Northeast Ohio Media Group earlier this month to discuss her proposals to combat voter apathy in judicial elections. An article from Cleveland.com explains that her three proposals – holding off-year elections, strengthening voter education outreach, and increasing experience requirements for judges – are not gaining much political momentum.

A voter education website will provide a “self promotional” tool for judicial candidates of all levels. Although this proposal has not garnered any significant opposition, experts doubt it will have much of an impact. The voters O’Connor wants to reach “are historically not the ones to research candidates,” the article explains. Still, supporters of the initiative say low information voters will benefit from having the highlights available on the one website.

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Arkansas Rep. Makes the Case For Required Recusal

Arkansas rep John Baine

Arkansas Representative John Baine (D)

Arkansas state Representative John Baine proposed a bill on Thursday that requiring judges recuse themselves from civil cases involving “major campaign contributors,” according to the Associated Press.

“If a reasonable person could perceive that the donation would impair the judge’s impartiality or if there is a ‘serious, objective’ probability of actual bias,” the article explains, the judge would be required to follow the request. Judges who refuse would have to do so in writing, and the refusal could be challenged within 30 days of filing.

The proposal came in the wake of Judge Mike Maggio’s bribery conviction. For background on that case, see Gavel Grab.

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Supreme Court To Hear Biggest Challenge to Affordable Care Act

Complex arguments are expected next week when the Supreme Court hears a challenge to the Affordable Care Act concerning federal government subsidies.

According to the Associated Press, opponents who brought the lawsuit say its “literal wording” means government subsidies should only be paid in states that have set up their own insurance markets or exchanges. Most states have not done that so if the subsidy is eliminated, millions could lose their insurance.

Supporters of the subsidies say such a narrow reading of the law defeats its main purpose to increase access to health insurance.

The Washington Post reports the King v. Burwell case is considered the greatest threat to Obamacare’s future since the court considered a challenge to the law’s individual mandate three years ago.

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Are Planned Cuts to KS Court Funding Request Part of Larger Battle?

KansasKansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office says his budget proposal pared back by $53 million over two fiscal years the judicial branch’s budget request because the latter hadn’t been submitted in the correct form.

Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael has a different take, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. He thinks the cuts came as part of a protracted fight pitting the executive and legislative branches against the judicial branch.

“Everything in this Statehouse is related to something else,” Carmichael said. “There is a battle between the judiciary, which seeks to enforce the Constitution of the State of Kansas, and the Legislature, which refuses to adequately fund public education, and certainly that is the root of the conflict.” Read more

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