Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has treated the state’s courts with a confrontational tone and in a scornful manner, attorney R. William Potter writes in an opinion published at NJ Spotlight.
Potter says the courts have stood up to the state’s Republican governor, who is considered a potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination:
“[D]espite this attack on their independence, the state’s judges have waved aside the verbal thunderbolts thrown by the state’s chief executive, regardless of the threats to their job security. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to suggest that Christie has been the governor most frequently judicially reversed in New Jersey history. And the list of judicial setbacks just keeps getting longer.”
Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, told a suburban newspaper editorial board this week, “I don’t trust the [Illinois] Supreme Court to be rational in their decisions.” He added, “I think they’re activist judges who want to be legislators.”
A Chicago Tribune article said Rauner made his remarks as part of a trip around the state to promote his theme that the state government is corrupt and needs “structural reform.” Rauner earlier called for consideration of a move toward merit-based judicial selection in Illinois (see Gavel Grab).
In response to a question, Rauner told the Daily Herald that he believes the court is part of a “corrupt” system. “We have a system where we elect our judges, and the trial lawyers who argue cases in front of those judges give campaign cash to those judges. It’s a corrupt system,” he said. Read more
Two bills under debate in the Texas legislature would make public the names of judges who grant minors permissions to have abortions, a step that critics say represents bullying judges and potentially threatening their safety.
“Texas is the first state in recent memory to consider naming the judges who rule on [these so-called judicial] bypass cases,” Mother Jones reported, although similar legislation was considered there several years ago. At that time, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Craig Enoch cautioned that naming judges could endanger them and their families at the hands of angry parents or anti-abortion extremists.
This year, Susan Hays, an attorney with the nonprofit group Jane’s Due Process, said the bills are intended to punish judges and discourage them from participating in judicial bypass proceedings. Read more
“To amend the constitution because some powerful partisans dislike a particular chief justice, or her judicial philosophy, is to sanction an attack on the court’s independence, the very foundation of the court’s legitimacy,” they write in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed. Critics say the April 7 referendum is aimed at demoting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, part of the court’s liberal minority.
“Our founders thoughtfully created a comprehensive constitution to serve as the foundation for the government of Wisconsin. It has served us well. The bedrock of judicial elections is nonpartisanship. Question 1 swings a sledgehammer at the dissenters in a sometimes-fractured court. But it misses the mark: it’s the wrong approach, for the wrong reasons, at the wrong time. And it would send the wrong message,” they add. Read more
Kansas legislators, locked in disagreement with the judiciary over public school funding, are finding “new ways each week to show contempt for Kansas’ courts” with legislation to bully them, a Lawrence Journal-World editorial says.
In addition to court funding legislation, a litany of other intimidation attempts includes, according to the editorial, “pending bills to lower justices’ mandatory retirement age and to replace the Kansas Court of Appeals with separate civil and criminal appellate courts. Waiting in the wings: proposed constitutional amendments that, if approved by the Legislature and voters, would have Kansas switch to direct partisan election of appellate judges, allow recall elections of judges statewide and make it harder for Supreme Court justices to survive retention votes.”
The editorial says what Kansans ought to be concerned about is how “the troubling lack of respect shown by one branch of state government for another … might lead to further assaults on the funding, authority and independence of the state judiciary. The courts must have all three in order to serve Kansans and justice properly.”
“Kansans should be alarmed” by the rhetoric of elected politicians in Topeka who, in their desire to exercise total control, have launched irrational attacks on state courts, Davis Merritt writes in a Wichita Eagle blog post.
Amid tensions between the legislative and judicial branches of public school funding, there are “legislative threats to limit the court’s jurisdiction, disrupt the balance of powers, gut the court’s funding and further politicize how justices are selected,” he writes.
As for elected politicians who see the Kansas court system as standing in their way, Merritt says, “Of course it is. That’s a primary duty of the judicial branch in a democracy: acting as a check on excessive power and extra-constitutional acts by either the legislative or executive branch, or, in the case of our present lockstep monolith, both.”
In a commentary piece for Governing, Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton and Board of Directors member Admiral Jamie Barnett note an alarming rise in legislative attacks on state courts, tied to the issue of marriage for same-sex couples. The piece, Same-Sex Marriage and the War on Our Courts, points out that legislators in several states “are pushing bills to intimidate, punish or fire public employees, including judges, who recognize or grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”
The authors note that legislatures are weighing such bills in at least four states: South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Iowa. With the exception of a high-profile controversy in Alabama, the attacks on state courts have flown largely under the radar as news coverage of marriage equality focuses on the U.S. Supreme Court.
It’s “outrageous,” the authors write, “that sitting judges who decide cases based on the law and constitution should fear reprisal from politicians.” Not only have some state lawmakers moved toward enacting punitive measures against courts, but impeachment threats against individual judges have been on the rise as marriage cases advance.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of marriage for same-sex couples by the end of its current term: see Gavel Grab for more.
Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s office says his budget proposal pared back by $53 million over two fiscal years the judicial branch’s budget request because the latter hadn’t been submitted in the correct form.
Democratic state Rep. John Carmichael has a different take, according to the Lawrence Journal-World. He thinks the cuts came as part of a protracted fight pitting the executive and legislative branches against the judicial branch.
“Everything in this Statehouse is related to something else,” Carmichael said. “There is a battle between the judiciary, which seeks to enforce the Constitution of the State of Kansas, and the Legislature, which refuses to adequately fund public education, and certainly that is the root of the conflict.” Read more
The Arizona House has given initial approval to a Republican-sponsored measure to expand the state Supreme Court from five to seven justices. Justice at Stake has warned of “court-packing” efforts in Arizona (see Gavel Grab).
According to an Associated Press article, the high court’s government affairs director said there is no need for additional justices to handle caseload. Nonetheless, the bill’s sponsor said it would allow the court to better represent Arizona’s increased population. From other states, there were these mixed reports about progress of legislative attacks on courts: Read more
A bill introduced in the Arizona legislature to increase the number of Supreme Court justices from five to seven is being met with a variety of criticism.
According to Cronkite News, Rep. Warren H. Petersen, R-Gilbert, who authored HB 2076, said it was necessary because of the lack of dissenting views and that Arizona is the largest state with only five justices.
Others say there is no relationship between a state’s size and the number of justices on its Supreme Court, noting that the court has not asked for this and it could slow down the courts since all justices individually review all cases.
“Expanding the size of a court is a huge deal. It’s the same as if you expand a legislature: Everybody would recognize that it has huge political implications,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a telephone interview.
“If there was truly a need for the court to be larger, that’s the kind of question that could be looked at through careful study and political deliberation, but this was inserted at the last minute. I think that kind of assertion is something that policymakers need to examine and not just take someone’s word for it.”