A firestorm has followed the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling that a Ten Commandments marker is unconstitutional and must be removed from the state Capitol grounds. “A politician in this country needs to wage war against the judiciary,” thundered FOX News contributor Eric Erickson. A state legislator said the high court could be reduced to one judge or its funding halved, the Edmond Sun reported. Politicians’ threats of impeaching the seven justices continued.
Amid the furor, the Tulsa World quoted Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton about the dangers of impeachment threats. “This latest threat by Oklahoma legislators to bully the state’s Supreme Court is deeply disturbing,” she said (see Gavel Grab). “When politicians threaten to remove judges from office for a single ruling, it strikes at the heart of the checks and balances system embedded in our democracy.” Read more
Presidential candidates’ attacks on the courts are becoming a staple of campaign trail news and debate in the wake of major Supreme Court decisions, with the latest developments including the following:
- Conservative pundit George Will condemned a proposal by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz for retention elections for Supreme Court justices. The idea would turn the court into a “political third branch,” Will wrote in The Washington Post. “Imagine campaigns conducted by justices. What would remain of the court’s prestige and hence its power to stand athwart rampant executives and overbearing congressional majorities?”
- Cruz, discussing his retention election idea in a FOX News interview, according to RealClearPolitics, couched it as a modern-day alternative to impeachment: “The Framers wrote about judicial overreach quite a bit. They believed the check would be impeachment. Now, here is the sad reality. Within a few decades Thomas Jefferson said impeachment had been not even a scarecrow. … There’s no universe in which there are 67 votes to remove [Justice] Anthony Kennedy from the Supreme Court.”
- Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee said in Iowa that he would support term limits on the federal judiciary, according to The Daily Nonpareil.
- Jeff Shesol wrote in The New Yorker about the attacks by GOP presidential candidates that Cruz “is stoking a pervasive and potentially destructive strain of anti-court sentiment within the G.O.P. He is not just attacking particular opinions or judges; he is attacking the judiciary itself as inherently unrepresentative, unaccountable, and in need of restraint.” Shesol put this in context of a “campaign of judicial intimidation in Kansas and other states” and in the context of U.S. political history.
- The Texas Tribune cited judicial election spending data from Justice at Stake and partner organizations in skeptically examining Cruz’s retention election proposal.
The Kansas Supreme Court has granted a freeze of a lower court ruling that struck down the legislature’s block grant plan for funding public schools and ordered Kansas to pay $50 million for public schools (see Gavel Grab).
Chief Justice Lawton Nuss signaled that the high court would move quickly to hear arguments, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported.
Regarding recent criticism by Gov. Sam Brownback and others of the lower court’s ruling, a Hays Daily News editorial stated, “The court’s role is to determine if laws pass constitutional muster. If doing their job correctly results in being called ‘activist,’ judges should wear the label proudly.”
In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:
- The U.S. Supreme Court will hear appeals by Kansas of three cases in which the state’s highest court set aside the death penalty for defendants found guilty of murder, the Associated Press said. Last year, critics unsuccessfully opposed retention of two Kansas justices who participated in removing two of the defendants from death row (see Gavel Grab).
- Upon the closing of the U.S. Supreme Court’s latest term, the New York Times reported, “Supreme Court Tacks Left, With Push From Disciplined Liberals.”
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Mobile, Al. ordered on Wednesday that probate judges who issue marriage licenses must issue them for all couples, the Montgomery Advertiser reported.
Judge Granade had ruled earlier (see Gavel Grab) that same-sex couples had a right to wed in the state, but she held off implementing the ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court took a stand. It did so last week, declaring a constitutional right for same-sex couples to wed.
Meanwhile, according to The Advocate and also Birmingham Business Journal, a petition at the MoveOn.org website for Chief Justice Moore’s impeachment has received more than 16,000 signatures. The petition contends the jurist should be removed “for his inability to perform his duties with impartiality.” The Advocate’s article was headlined, “He Went There: Antigay Judge Roy Moore Compares Marriage Equality to Holocaust.”
To learn about Chief Justice Moore’s opinions about same-sex marriage, read Gavel Grab.
“The latest threat by Oklahoma legislators to bully the state’s Supreme Court is deeply disturbing,” Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said on Wednesday after several legislators had voiced support for the impeachment of seven justices.
“When politicians threaten to remove judges from office for a single ruling, it strikes at the heart of the checks and balances system embedded in our democracy. Judges and justices must be permitted to rule fairly and impartially, in accordance with the facts and the law, without political interference or intimidation. Otherwise none of us will be assured of our fair day in court, as judges will be stripped of their ability to fulfill their essential role in protecting all our rights under law.”
On Tuesday, a small group of state legislators announced their intent to pursue impeachment proceedings against those Oklahoma Supreme Court justices who comprised the majority in declaring that a granite Ten Commandments marker must be removed from the state Capitol grounds. Read more
The analysis of the Supreme Court’s completed term has just begun. Not surprisingly, there’s disagreement about whether the court has turned more liberal; trended in favor of the powerful and wealthy; or engaged in rebuilding a damaged reputation.
Nan Aron of the left-leaning Alliance for Justice called the court’s rulings on Monday (see Gavel Grab) “shocking.” Aron said, according to Politico, “Last week was wonderful and no one can take away the victories that occurred, but I think it’s also important to understand those victories in a context [that] the court is one that continues to rule in favor of powerful and wealthy interests at the expense of most Americans. The decisions certainly today suggest that trend continues.”
“The numbers show that this is easily the most liberal term of the Roberts Court, and probably the last couple of decades,” SCOTUSblog founder Tom Goldstein told Politico. “For all the talk of a conservative bloc, it was the more liberal Justices who hung together went it counted.” Read more
The Florida Supreme Court has adopted amendments to the Code of Judicial Conduct that will allow appeals court judges to pool campaign resources if they face “active opposition in a merit retention election for the same judicial office.”
The state Supreme Court decided to consider an update to the rules in 2013, the year after three justices were targeted for removal by conservative groups and survived the challenge to their retention elections, according to a Daily Business Review article. Entitled “How Citizens United Inspired Judicial Campaign Rule Update,” it is available by searching through Google. Read more
To ponder how Sen. Ted Cruz’s proposal for retention elections of Supreme Court justices (see Gavel Grab) would work, Mother Jones turned to the Justice at Stake Campaign.
Campaign Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said, in the words of Mother Jones, “that political attacks on the Supreme Court after controversial decisions aren’t new, and that the founding fathers gave federal judges lifetime tenure to protect them from exactly the kind of political pressure Cruz is hoping to apply.
“‘What kind of political campaigning and spending would there be if such a system would be put in place?’ Seaton asks. ‘It’s just hard to imagine just how much that would blow the system out of the water.'” Read more
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback has criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and two Kansas Supreme Court rulings, on abortion and school funding, as politically driven and has called for a “more democratic” selection process for judges.
Earlier this year Brownback proposed changes to the way Kansas justices are selected, by either shifting to their direct election or to a Washington-style system of appointment by the chief executive and confirmation by the state Senate. The justices currently are chosen through a merit selection process.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reported Brownback’s latest views by relying on an email sent from his office to people who have signed up for such communications. The email branded the nation’s highest court a judiciary “unrestrained by the rule of law.” Read more