Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

Justice at Stake Campaign Addresses Attacks on Court

The Justice at Stake Campaign took note on Monday of a crescendo of attacks on justices of the Supreme Court, in the wake of recent rulings that have generated extensive controversy. JASC Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said in a statement:

“The U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings on health care and marriage last week have unleashed a torrent of political attacks, and today’s rulings may as well.  To date we have seen calls to impeach the justices or alter their terms of service, calls to strip the Court of its authority, statements urging public officials to disregard the rulings, and more.  Disturbingly, we have seen one presidential candidate call for ending the life tenure of Supreme Court justices, and another referring to the Court’s actions as ‘judicial tyranny.’

“These reactions are antithetical to the concept of fair and impartial courts.  Regarding life tenure, the founding fathers prescribed it for federal judges precisely  to allow judges to rule on the facts and the law, insulated from political pressure or threats of retaliation for a particular decision.  As to the other types of political pressure some are applying we say this: in our pluralistic society, there will always be decisions by the courts with which some disagree. For the courts to do their jobs, we need them to always resist pressure, intimidation and threats from politicians and partisans who want them to rule a certain way. Courts must be able to continue in the role we all rely on: as protectors and defenders of all our rights under the law and the Constitution.”

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Cruz Urges Retention Elections for Supreme Court Justices

ted-cruz-has-just-wrapped-up-his-epic-21-hour-defund-obamacare-talk-a-thonSen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, has fiercely criticized the Supreme Court over its recent marriage and health care act rulings and called for retention elections of Supreme Court justices.

Under the federal system for choosing judges, they get lifetime tenure in order to provide them independence and buffer them from prevailing political winds. Retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in 2012, after similar attacks on the courts during the presidential election season, that the U.S. court system “has served the nation quite well” (see Gavel Grab).

In an Iowa speech on Saturday, Cruz said, according to a Washington Post blog, “This week’s assault was but the latest in a long line of judicial assaults on our Constitution and Judeo-Christian values that have made America great.” The high court “has now forced the disaster of a health-care law called Obamacare on the American people and attempted to redefine an institution that was ordained by God.” In a National Review piece he called for up-or-down elections if a Supreme Court justice wants a new term every eight years, and if he or she were defeated, the justice could not serve on the high court again. Read more

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After IA Court Ruling, Critic Would Revamp Judicial Screening Panel

iowaflagOn June 19, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that doctors can administer abortion-inducing pills through video conferencing with patients. A critic of the ruling quickly called for changes to the way Iowa Supreme Court justices are chosen.

Chuck Hurley, vice president and chief counsel of The Family Leader, zeroed in on the composition of the judicial nominating commission that recommends candidates to the governor for appointment. He called for having members of the commission be elected by state voters, according to The Iowa Republican.

Currently, there are 15 members of the vetting panel, and it is chaired by the senior associate justice of the Supreme Court. “The [seven] elected members are chosen by resident members of the bar in each congressional district, and the [seven] appointed members are chosen by the governor, subject to senate confirmation,” according to the Judicial Selection in the States website, operated by the National Center for State Courts. Read more

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Column: Kansas Judges are Now ‘The Pariahs of State Government’

slide_241737_1303588_freeThe drumbeat of criticism directed at the Kansas legislature and Gov. Sam Brownback for attacking state courts is not abating.

“Kansas judges have been the pariahs of state government ever since Gov. Sam Brownback and conservative lawmakers took over the reins of power,” Barbara Shelly wrote in a Kansas City Star column this week. She outlined a series of past attacks, then zeroed in on legislation passed this year and signed by Brownback for funding state courts, which also would defund the courts if they defy the legislature’s will and overturn a specific statute. That statute takes away the high court’s authority to name chief district judges.

The Kansas Legislature is using funding for the court system as a club to coerce the state’s highest court into a ruling it finds favorable,” Shelly wrote. “Lawyers in Kansas say the maneuver takes their breath away. A staffer at the Brennan Center for Justice in New York, which tracks threats to an independent judiciary, says he’s never seen anything like it. Anywhere. Only in Kansas.” She said it crossed the line.

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Study on OK Judicial Reform Sought by Critic of Court

OklahomaA Republican legislator who has harshly criticized Oklahoma’s highest court is proposing an interim study on reforming the judiciary.

State Rep. Kevin Calvey said the Oklahoma Supreme Court “has stricken several enactments of the Legislature without just cause … The court’s actions constitute an abuse of power, judicial tyranny, usurpation of the role of the Legislature, and legislating from the bench,” according to a Journal Record op-ed by James C. Milton. It is available through a Google search, with the headline, “Gavel to Gavel: Protecting Judicial Review.”

Milton said tensions have existed for years now between legislators and the Oklahoma courts. At the same time, he cautioned, “our system depends on a judicial system that is above influence and immune from pressure.” Read more

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KS Legislature Gone, But Not Controversy Over Courts Bill

KansasThe Kansas legislature has finally wrapped up work after a long overtime session to deal with contentious budget issues. A bill that it passed for funding state courts, signed by Gov. Sam Brownback, was one of the legislature’s most controversial actions.

The bill has an unusual provision to strike the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges. It has received extensive attention both in Kansas and nationally.

At Salon, Paul Rosenberg mentioned the law at length in an article that was headlined, “Sam Brownback guts Kansas even more: This is life under America’s worst Republican governor.” Read more

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Could a federal lawsuit rescue Kansas Supreme Court?

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

A bill signed by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback that “linked funding for the judiciary to the outcome of a Kansas Supreme Court case” as reported in Above the Law, continues to spark controversy. Now an analysis in Slate suggests that the Kansas Supreme Court may be able to strike back.

“He (Brownback) has forgotten one escape hatch against autocracy: the United States Constitution,” reported Slate. According to the analysis, the Kansas Supreme Court can sue Brownback under the so-called Guarantee Clause, an obscure provision of the Constitution.

Coverage of the crisis in Kansas has been overwhelmingly negative. “Brownback only wants to pay the courts if they render the decision that he wants,” said Above the Law; while The Aspen Times accused Brownback and his “cohorts” of using their position to “undermine the constitutionally backed independence of judiciary, in order to pack state courts with judges who agree with him.” It also said it was a “subtle political coup in the making.” The LA Times described the situation as “what can only be seen as attempted extortion,” and Slate  stated that Brownback was trying to “threaten it (the Kansas Judiciary) with total destruction.”

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‘Essentially Extortion': Editorial on KS Courts Under Political Attack

Gov. Brownback

Gov. Brownback

At home and from afar, the Kansas legislature and governor continue to take a beating from critics who say these politicians are engaging in extortion-style tactics with Kansas courts.

From a Kansas City Star editorial: “The Legislature … passed, and [Gov. Sam] Brownback recently signed, a reckless measure that would eliminate funding for the state’s entire judicial branch if the Kansas Supreme Court overturns a 2014 law on judicial selection in district courts. This is an unconscionable intrusion on the actions of another branch of government. The Legislature’s act is essentially extortion: Rule in our favor or be shut down.”

From a Los Angeles Times editorial: “In what can only be seen as attempted extortion, Brownback last week signed into law a measure that will defund the state’s court system should any state judge rule unconstitutional a separate 2014 court reform law enacted by Brownback and his minions. … It’s unconscionable that a state legislature and a governor would resort to such clearly unconstitutional tactics to try to rig a court case.” Read more

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Commentary: Brownback, Legislators ‘Bullying’ the Judiciary

flag_st_ksFor his signing a court funding bill that also threatens to roll back the entire funding package (see Gavel Grab), Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is getting a scorching from national media commentators.

“Brownback and the legislature are essentially bullying the judiciary: Uphold our law or cease to exist,” summed up Mark Joseph Stern at Slate. The  bill has a controversial provision that strikes the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges.

At MSNBC’s The Maddowblog, it was noted that Rachel Maddow recently characterized the legislation as telling the courts, “‘You rule one way, you’re fine. You rule the other way, we will abolish the courts.’ So go ahead and consider that case, Kansas judges. Enjoy your judicial independence.”

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Brownback Battle With Judiciary Escalates: N.Y. Times

Gov. Sam Brownback’s signing into law a judiciary funding measure that also could jettison the same funding marks an escalation of the Republican chief executive’s fight with the judicial branch, the New York Times reported. 

The court funding bill has a controversial provision that strikes the funding if a Kansas court overturns a year-old statute that removed authority of the state Supreme Court to name district court chief judges (see Gavel Grab). The authority was transferred to the district courts themselves.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, which is aiding in representation of a state judge who is challenging the 2014 law. “It seems pretty clear that these mechanisms have been an effort by the governor and the Legislature to try and get a court system that is more in line with their philosophy.” The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization. Read more

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