Gavel Grab

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With Nevada Appeals Court Created, High Court to Shrink

Nevada_quarter,_reverse_side,_2006Nevada voters approved last year a referendum to create a new Court of Appeals, and three judges took the oath in January. Now, two justices on the state Supreme Court are reckoning with the fact that their jobs are to be eliminated as a result.

A Las Vegas Review-Journal article explained that a 1997 law expanding the high court from five to seven members also provided that it must be cut back to five “on the date on which the voters approve a constitutional amendment establishing an intermediate court of appeals.” The two justices whose jobs will be eliminated will be allowed, under the 1997 statute, to serve out their terms.

The article indicated that the two seats would expire in 2019 unless the legislature enacts a change. One of the two justices, Michael Douglas, said he believes the court carries out its work better with seven than with five members. “You get a better analysis of the problem” when the court is weighing novel legal issues, and a broader cross-section of people sit on the court, he said.

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Partisan Judicial Elections — or Merit — Debated in North Carolina

justice-scalesA proposal in the North Carolina legislature to make judicial elections partisan moves in the wrong direction because steps should be taken to remove politics from the courtroom, Tom Campbell writes in a Greenville Daily Reflector op-ed.

Campbell is a former assistant state treasurer. He concludes, “The verdict is in. The current system isn’t serving us well and we are increasingly convinced that electing appellate judges isn’t the best way to get the best judges. Partisan judicial elections only make them more political. We should take politics out of the courtroom as much as possible in order to assure better jurisprudence.” Read more

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No Let-Up in Debate Over Chief Justice’s Challenge to Ballot Measure

Wisconsin_flag_mapAlmost two weeks after voters approved a ballot measure to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, a heated debate continues over Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s legal challenge to the proposed constitutional amendment.

At Huffington Post, a commentary by Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy was headlined, “Walker’s Dark Money Allies Orchestrate Coup of the Courts.” Bottari extensively quoted David Schwartz, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, as saying the legal challenge was an appropriate step to resolve a complicated legal questions.

In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Editorial Page Editor David D. Haynes said the April 7th referendum was clearly aimed at demoting the sitting chief justice, and was an example of the kind of “vicious, hardball politics” played in Madison. But the voters have spoken, he said, Chief Justice Abrahamson lost, and there is little common-sense argument to be made in support of her legal challenge. Read more

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Reappointment of Connecticut Chief Justice Advances in Legislature

The Connecticut Senate has voted to reconfirm Chief Justice Chase Rogers for a new eight-year term, despite earlier objections raised by some activists (see Gavel Grab). Now her reconfirmation awaits a House vote.

Lawmakers from both parties have supported Chief Justice Rogers, saying the changes she has made for the state’s courts are positive. Those changes include making the courts friendlier for the public to use and also electronic filing, the Associated Press reported.


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Monday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • A Philadelphia Inquirer article about lower-court judicial candidates seeking election said they “are hustling to gain name recognition in a race known for being largely ignored by the public.”
  • At his Jost on Justice blog, Kenneth Jost contended, “In Changing Times, Rethink Life Tenure for Justices.”
  • According to Pix11, the Ellis Island Medal of Honor was presented to retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.
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Fellow Justice Criticizes Abrahamson’s Challenge to Amendment

Justice Crooks

Justice Crooks

There’s more public discord on the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Justice N. Patrick Crooks decried Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s filing a lawsuit to challenge a recently approved change in how the Chief Justice is selected.

“I think it’s not only sad, it’s unfortunate,” Justice  Crooks told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I won’t give you my view of the merits of that lawsuit, but I will tell you I think it’s something that should not have been done.” He added, “We’ve become a little bit of a laughingstock, or at least she has.” He said he was thinking about seeking the court’s top job.

An opposing point of view about the lawsuit came in a Capital Times editorial. It was headlined, “Chief Justice Abrahamson is right to seek clarification of conflict.” It said the referendum approved by voters on April 7 about changing the selection method for the Chief Justice was specifically aimed at dislodging the current leader and that it was pushed with partisan intentions by allies of Republican Gov. Scott Walker and Justice David Prosser, including the pro-business Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. Read more

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Concerns Raised About Big Fundraising in Pennsylvania Court Race

law-cash-21816475Advocates who would like to see reform of Pennsylvania’s judicial elections are raising concerns about fundraising in current races for three Supreme Court openings. The total has climbed to nearly $3 million and includes a personal friend’s $500,000 donation to one candidate.

“It was not that long ago when $500,000 was a whole campaign for appellate court candidates,” said Barry Kauffman, director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, according to the Associated Press.

“Unfortunately, judicial races are fueled by money and too often that money comes from lawyers or potentially, litigants,” said Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, which wants to see a merit selection system adopted for picking appellate judges. “There’s just something wrong with a system that practically requires the campaigns of judges and would-be judges to solicit campaign contributions and endorsements” from those who may appear before them in court, Marks said. Read more

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • The North Carolina House put its preliminary stamp of approval on legislation to make judicial elections partisan (see Gavel Grab for background), according to
  • Gavel to Gavel reported, “Texas: bill to move lawsuits against the state out of Travis County advances; sixth state to consider getting suits away from capital county judges.” Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.
  • A panel of judges belonging to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit seemed skeptical, when hearing oral arguments, about a legal challenge to a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule on climate change, the New York Times said.
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O’Connor is Honored by Three Current Women Justices

OConnor-HonoredRetired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor was joined by the court’s three women justices this week at an event paying tribute to Justice O’Connor’s life and legacy.

Justice O’Connor received an award in Washington, D.C. from Seneca Women Global Leadership Forum, the Associated Press reported. The AP said the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court “was lauded for her trailblazing success — both during her time on the bench and in her advocacy work since leaving the court to promote civic education for children and justice for women around the world.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg commended Justice O’Connor’s demeanor on the court, where she served between 1981 and 2006, according to a Blog of Legal Times post. (It can be accessed through a Google search.) “Sandra Day O’Connor has done more to promote collegiality” on the court, Justice Ginsburg said, “than any other justice past or present.”

Justice O’Connor also serves as the first Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake.


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Millions Raised So Far by Pennsylvania Court Candidates

gavel_cash-300x202With a primary vote set for May 19, a dozen candidates for three seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court have already raised nearly $3 million, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Because it is unprecedented to have three open seats in one Pennsylvania high court election, some analysts have forecast record-setting spending. The Inquirer noted that one candidate, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Kevin Dougherty, has reported raising more than $707,000. His brother is the local head of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers. At least $302,000 of Judge Dougherty’s campaign funds have come from that union.

Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts described Judge Dougherty as a credible high court candidate and also said, “It’s really hard to argue that people’s perception of such a system is not corroded when judges can accept huge amounts of money from groups and individuals who could very well come before them.” PMC is a Justice at Stake partner organization.  Read more

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