Gavel Grab

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Some US Judges Want Reassessment of Criminal Sentencing

Acting on their own, a number of individual federal judges are joining in a push to closely examine and in some cases curtail long prison sentences handed to defendants, the New York Times reports.

“The popular view in our country has changed — we don’t want to hold somebody down forever and ever,” District Judge Larry Alan Burns of southern California said. “I think judges should be aware of those things.”

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Analysis: Ginsburg, O’Connor Have ‘Judged in a Different Voice’

The author of a new book about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes in Slate that these jurists have “judged in a different voice” because of their life experiences as women.

“The law is not different for men and for women, and Justices O’Connor and Ginsburg were not morally different from their peers. But they had life experiences as women. And their lives made their work different,” contends Linda Hirshman.

Citing the justices’ records and questions asked in oral arguments, Hirshman says the two “brought a woman’s understanding to the job of judging.” Read more

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Politics Fuels ‘Growing Judicial Vacancy Crisis’ in Texas: Opinion

empty-bench1With another federal judge announcing his retirement and the state’s two Republican senators playing politics with a Democratic president, Texas “has become the epicenter of a growing judicial vacancy crisis,” a Fort Worth Star-Telegram op-ed says.

Natalie Knight of the Alliance for Justice wrote the op-ed, which is headlined, “Texas judicial vacancy flood means [Sens.] Cornyn, Cruz must act.” There are nine vacant federal judgeships in the state, and three of them have been unoccupied for more than three years. Seven have been formally deemed “judicial emergencies.”

“[John] Cornyn and [Ted] Cruz have a choice: Let the Texas vacancy crisis grow even worse, or start looking for the judges Texans desperately need,” Knight contends.

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Opinion: ‘Staggering Price’ for Inadequate AL Court Funding

2000px-Seal_of_Alabama.svgThere is a “staggering price in dollars and in human life” as a result of Alabama legislators inadequately funding an overburdened judicial system, activist Clete Wetli warns in an Al.com opinion. He commends Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore for standing up for adequate court funding.

“Tragically,” Wetli explains, “the concept of a speedy trial has become a punchline in a bad joke as we continue to ask our municipal, district, and circuit court judges to do the impossible with larger caseloads, less staff, and fewer community resources. To add insult to injury, the revenue raised by the court system goes just about everywhere else instead of actually funding the court system, which is forced to beg the legislature for adequate support staff or modest cost-of-living increases.”

Wetli concludes, “Our ‘hung-jury’ legislators need to wake up and realize that the only verdict that makes sense is to increase funding to our court system.”

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Commentary: KS Supreme Court Selection Shines for Transparency

kansassupremeA “cape of confidentiality” envelops the nomination and hiring process for those administrative law judges who handle Kansas workers’ compensation cases, says a political writer who contrasts it to openness in the selection of state Supreme Court nominees.

In a Topeka Capital-Journal blog, Tim Carpenter faults both state Labor Secretary Lana Gordon and an opaque vetting process by a nominating panel tasked with finding the best administrative law judges (see Gavel Grab). Perhaps, Carpenter writes, that panel “ought to take a cue from the Kansas Supreme Court nominating commission, which interviews applicants in open forums. A list of finalists for Supreme Court vacancies is made public and forwarded to the governor, who makes the ultimate pick.”

The latter process has been denounced by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Carpenter notes. The writer adds, “He’s keen on amending the Kansas Constitution to deliver to governors unilateral power to make nominations for the state’s highest court. Each pick would be subject to confirmation by the Kansas Senate.” When the legislature adopted that “closed-loop” model for selecting Court of Appeals nominees, according to Carpenter, the governor’s first pick for a vacancy was a personal friend and confidante. 

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Judicial Diversity Including LGBT Judges is Urged

In  California and New York, advocates are urging enhanced judicial diversity through selection of judges who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

New York Assemblywoman Deborah Glick is calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to name a LGBT person to the Court of Appeals, the highest court, according to WSHU Public Radio. “Representing the full diversity of New York State, it would be appropriate to have an openly LGBT jurist on the court of Appeals,” Glick said.

In California, according to a San Diego Source article, a coalition of LGBT bar associations has recommended establishing a state LGBT judges association, mentorship initiatives, and ways to expand the strong applicants in the pipeline for judgeships. The article, “Local attorneys seek greater judicial diversity,” is available through searching by Google.

Justice at Stake believes that diversity on the bench improves the quality of justice and builds faith and confidence in the legitimacy of the courts. You can learn more from the JAS web page on the topic.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • In the Grand Haven (Mich.) Tribune, an editorial said state Supreme Court Justice Mary Beth Kelly was “thumbing her nose to state voters” who elected her in 2010 by stepping down now to return to private practice. She was elected for an eight-year term.
  • Regarding a political struggle over a state Supreme Court judgeship in Virginia, WTOP quoted a political scientist as saying a decision about whether the legislature has actually adjourned (see Gavel Grab) may end up in the courts.
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Law Professor Appointed as Arkansas Chief Justice

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has named Howard Brill, a law professor at the University of Arkansas, to serve out the Arkansas Supreme Court term of Chief Justice Jim Hannah, who recently announced his retirement.

Brill previously has served as a special chief justice on the state’s highest court, according to Arkansas Online. At a blog of the Arkansas Times, it was reported that “Brill is well-known for his deep religious beliefs, but he’s also widely viewed as scrupulously fair.” Brill said he does not anticipate running for election to the court in the future.

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LDF: Blacks Never Have Had Voice on Local LA Parish Court

TerrebonneParish_REUSEIn a lawsuit challenging the practice of electing five Terrebone Parish, Louisiana judges through at-large elections, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund lawyers say black voters never have had an elected voice on the court.

“Although black residents comprise 20% of Terrebonne’s population, are geographically concentrated within the Parish, and consistently vote together to attempt to elect candidates of their choice, no black candidate has ever been elected in a contested election in the 32nd JDC because of the at-large electoral system,” said a LDF press release about a memorandum in support of a motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit.

“As recently as 2008, this structure resulted in a white judge’s reelection even after he was suspended for wearing blackface in an apparent parody of black criminal defendants,” said Leah Aden, an LDF attorney. The press release was mentioned in Election Law blog.

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Sorting Through the Fallout From Tussle Over Virginia Judgeship

Justice Roush

Justice Roush

The fallout from partisan fighting over a Virginia Supreme Court judgeship (see Gavel Grab) continues to fuel discussion about what might, or should, happen next.

A WVTF Public Radio report said Republican legislators are warning that litigants would have grounds to challenge court rulings if Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, reappoints Justice Jane Marum Roush to a second interim term in September, as he has promised. The governor is allowed to do so when the legislature is not in session, and there is strident disagreement over whether it has technically adjourned.

A Roanoke Times editorial suggested that Roush rise above the partisan politics swirling elsewhere and remove her name from consideration for reappointment. She “could deliver both parties the public humiliation they both richly deserve,” it said.

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