Gavel Grab

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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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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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Senate Confirms Two Judges; Editorial Spotlights a Vacancy

Capitol_domeThe U.S. Senate confirmed the following two nominees to federal district court judgeships: Judge Rolando Olvera Jr. in the Southern District of Texas, and Utah Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish in Utah. The Senate votes were reported by The Brownsville (Texas) Herald and The Deseret (Utah) News.

Meanwhile a Wisconsin State Journal editorial lashed out at partisan political gamesmanship over a vacancy on a federal appeals court that has existed on a federal appeals court for years (see Gavel Grab for background).

“The partisan fight comes down to Republicans and Democrats hoping to tip ideological control of the courts. But judges are supposed to be independent and not favor either party when interpreting the law,” the editorial said. Read more

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Right to Wed for Same-Sex Couples in Alabama, Judge Says

U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Alabama has ruled again that same-sex couples have a right to wed in the state, and she held off implementation of her ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court takes a stand on related cases before it.

Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has contended that Judge Granade had no right to tell state probate judges what they should do regarding marriage equality. These probate judges belong to a parallel state court system, he has argued, according to the Associated Press.

Judge Granade said in her ruling, “It is true that if this Court grants the preliminary injunction, the probate judges will be faced with complying with either Alabama’s marriage laws that prohibit same-sex marriage as they have been directed by the Alabama Supreme Court, or with complying with the United States Constitution as directed by this Court. However, the choice should be simple. Under the Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States are the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’”

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The Tennessee Supreme Court was preparing to hear oral arguments in several cases this week outside of its courtroom and before high school students participating in Girls and Boys State programs, The Chattanoogan reported.
  • The Akron Beacon Journal had an article entitled, “Judge John P. O’Donnell, decider of Brelo verdict, has reputation as careful jurist.”
  • Tamir Sukkary wrote an opinion piece about the California Commission on Judicial Performance, published in the Contra Costa Times with the headline, “More transparency is needed to adequately judge the judges.”
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At Least For Now, Roggensack Remains WI Chief Justice

At a hearing on Friday, U.S. District Judge James Peterson declined again to block Chief Justice Pat Roggensack of the Wisconsin Supreme Court from holding that title while Justice Shirley Abrahamson pursues litigation claiming title to the top job.

Judge Peterson said Justice Abrahamson’s lawyer had the “tougher argument” in the lawsuit, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and the judge said it is not to him to restore the Wisconsin court’s reputation as two justices square off over who is its leader.

“If there is to be a restoration of the confidence the public feels in the Supreme Court, it has to come from the court itself,” he said. The court’s conservative majority chose Justice Roggensack for the top job in an email vote after a voter-approved constitutional amendment, changing the selection method for the chief justice, was certified recently. Justice Abrahamson has contended the new process should not be implemented in the middle of her term. 


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Pennsylvania Court Primary TV Ad Buys Surge to $2.4 Million

A barrage of last-minute advertising has pushed TV ad buys in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court primary up to at least $2.4 million as of Friday, representing almost $1 million in new ad buys in three days, Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice said in a joint analysis. The primary will be held on Tuesday.

Seven of the 12 candidates seeking nomination to run for three open seats are running TV ads, and they can be viewed at the Brennan Center’s “Buying Time” website. The ads focus on themes of ethics and candidate qualifications.

“Unfortunately, it looks like Pennsylvanians could be heading for an historically costly battle over three Supreme Court seats,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said. “The TV ad dollars are multiplying literally overnight, and this is just for the primary. The spectacle of so much spending, on top of recent scandals affecting the Court, ought to put insulating judges from money and political pressure at the top of Pennsylvania’s agenda.” Read more

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