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Gavel Grab is on Hiatus

Gavel Grab is on hiatus for now.  Thanks for reading and watch this space for future Gavel Grab news!

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Pennsylvania: High Price of Entry for Supreme Court Hopefuls

vote signCandidates for Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court are wasting no time jumping into the fundraising race, while publicly lamenting the high cost to compete, according to a report on the Philadelphia Inquirer’s website.   At a debate that included five of the dozen candidates for three seats, all five agreed that the cost of campaigning was too high.  Meanwhile, three candidates have already reported raising more than $500,000, according to Justice at Stake partner organization Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts – dramatically outpacing fundraising in the 2009 judicial race, in which the highest sum raised at this point was $167,730.

An earlier report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette , published before fundraising totals had been fully reported, predicted that top fundraisers in the race could be Pittsburgh Superior Court Judge David Wecht and Philadelphia Judge John Dougherty.   The crowded field of candidates will face a May 19 primary.

Pennsylvania’s system of electing judges has come in for heightened criticism following recent scandals, including the conviction of a Philadelphia judge in a ticket-fixing case (see Gavel Grab.)  One current vacancy on the state Supreme Court is the seat formerly held by Justice Joan Orie Melvin, convicted in 2013 on campaign-related corruption charges.

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Friday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • An article from reports on New Jersey’s new ethics rule, imposed in response to the actions of two lower court judges who “compromised judicial integrity by creating an appearance of impartiality.”
  • The Columbus-Dispatch reports that Ohio Chief Justice O’Connor is calling for off-year judicial elections to increase visibility and voter attention.
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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • WBIR reports that Bill Haslam has named the members of an 11-person council to recommend candidates to fill judicial vacancies in Tennessee.
  • According to, the first blind Michigan Supreme Court Justice Richard Bernstein is learning to navigate his new surroundings.
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Gavel Grab Will Return Jan. 5

The Gavel Grab staff is taking a break and will return Jan. 5. Happy Holidays to our readers.

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New York Report: 'Judicial Diversity: A Work in Progress'


A report was issued by The New York State Bar Association (NYSBA), titled “Judicial Diversity: A Work In Progress,” with a press release by readMedia. Within the report are detailed numbers about how well the New York judiciary reflects the racial, ethnic, and gender composition of the state.

“Diversity matters,” the report begins. “But nowhere is it more important than in the judiciary, the branch of government charged with safeguarding our country’s constitutional democracy and dispensing justice to its citizenry.” The report provides a detailed breakdown of the data per judicial district as well as analysis for the possible reasons behind the lack of diversity in certain areas.

“Diversity long has been a goal of the State Bar Association,” said NYSBA President Glenn Lau-Kee, “This report highlights that achieving judiciary diversity indeed is a work in progress.”

Read more

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Tuesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • After 24 years on the bench, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Janice Holder is retiring.  The Tennessean published a piece describing her long career that was defined, in part, by an administrative fluke.
  • released results of a recent poll that asked readers if they thought judges should receive raises.  Most readers disagreed with Ohio’s Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor who said Thursday in her State of the Judiciary address that the state’s judiciary deserves a raise.
  • In a video posted online by C-SPAN, Sandra Day O’Connor discussed her book, Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. The interview took place at the 2014 National Book Festival on August 30.
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Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Judicial Vacancy Edition

There are currently 10 federal judgeships in Texas that have been vacant for an average of nearly two years resulting in a backlog of more than 12,000 cases.  A report by the Center for American Progress notes that 17 vacancies had been filled at this point during Republican President George W. Bush’s second term, in contrast with the six judges that have been appointed to U.S. District Court vacancies in Texas under President Obama.

Phillip Martin of the Austin-based Progress Texas stated that “Senators Cornyn and Cruz have allowed politics to cloud important needs to have judges to fill our federal courts.”  The Associated Press reports that upcoming retirements could lead to as many as 13 Texas-based federal judgeships vacancies by March 2015.

Senators Cornyn and Cruz have stated that Obama hasn’t nominated candidates to fill these vacancies quickly enough. This is despite the fact that the White House does not push nominees without support from home-state senators and waits for their suggestions, as mandated by Senate tradition.

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Wednesday Gavel Grab Briefs

In these other dispatches about fair and impartial courts:

  • According to the Topeka Capital-Journal, the Kansas Attorney General told House Budget Committee members it would not be a good idea to reject the Kansas Supreme Court order to correct constitutional flaws in state funding of K-12 public education by July 1.
  • A Louisiana Senate bill to repeal the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age is expected to easily pass today, but will face much tougher road in the House, reports Gavel to Gavel, the blog of the National Center for State Courts.
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Roy Schotland

The fair courts world has lost one of its founding spirits.  Roy Schotland, Professor Emeritus at the Georgetown University Law Center, passed away on January 26, surrounded by his family.  Long before there was a fair courts field, he was sounding the alarm about how judicial elections were becoming risks to our justice system and our democracy.

Roy was one of those polymaths that the law attracts.  He clerked for Justice William Brennan, practiced law, and taught at Virginia and Penn before coming to Georgetown.  He wrote treatises and other works on administrative law, securities, pensions, election law and campaign finance, and he advised the Federal Reserve Board, the American Bar Association, the National Center for State Courts and numerous state chief justices.  A decade ago, when Justice at Stake decided to give an award for scholarship in the field of fair courts, it appointed a committee of scholars that took very little time in selecting the obvious choice.  We had a nice ceremony to honor Roy at the Harvard Law School, where we were welcomed by Dean Elena Kagan.

Roy was one of life’s connoisseurs, delighting in good stories and interesting language, in food and museums and the giddiness of grandparenting.   He was a careful observer and a tough questioner. And he was something of an old-school blogger, sending out missives Read more

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