Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

Crossfire in Commentaries Over Alaska Judicial Council

Alaska-quarterFrom an op-ed critical of the Alaska Judicial Council and a rebuttal by a council defender, you can learn about controversy over a nonpartisan entity established at Alaska’s statehood to evaluate judicial candidates within a merit-based selection system.

John Harmon, an Anchorage educator and a former Fortune 500 corporate attorney, wrote recently in the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, “Alaska promotes its judicial system as ‘merit’ based, but the actions seen from the Council appear to be those of partisan politics.”

This week Barbara Hood, a retired attorney and a founding board member of Justice Not Politics Alaska, wrote a Valley Frontiersman reply asserting that the council is doing its job well. “In recent years, members of Alaska’s judiciary have come under attack by political groups with agendas,” she said. “Now the same special interest groups seek to reshape our justice system by targeting the council itself.” Read more

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Retired KS Justice: 'Save Our Independent Judiciary'

Six_Fred_DA“Kansans should be concerned” that a new court funding law threatens the independence of the state judiciary and violates the separation of powers of the three government branches, retired Kansas Justice Fred N. Six writes in a Wichita Eagle op-ed. He advocates for its repeal.

The new law provides increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system. It allows local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission and takes away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges (see Gavel Grab).

“As citizens,” Justice Six writes, “we are entitled to a fair day in court, whether to ensure that our rights are protected or our legal disputes are decided impartially. We should be extremely skeptical of efforts by the legislative or executive branches to manipulate the powers assigned to the Kansas Supreme Court by our constitution and make the courts subservient to the political branches.” He concludes: Read more

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Legislator Wants Term Limits or Elections for U.S. Judges

Republican state Rep. John Becker of Ohio, who earlier this year called for impeachment of a federal judge over a single ruling (see Gavel Grab), now is voicing unhappiness over another U.S. judge’s ruling and saying federal judges should be subject to term limits or elections.

According to a Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch blog, Becker was critical of U.S. District Judge Peter Economus, who last month ordered Ohio to undo cuts to early voting because the cuts discriminated against the poor and minorities. Becker also said that in this legal dispute, the U.S. Supreme Court has “stepped in to (at least temporarily) restore sanity and the rule of law.”

He called Judge Economus “one of our local best examples of why federal judges should be term limited and/or elected. There are far too many judges, especially at the federal level, who believe it their mission to make the law Read more

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Different Routes to Judicial Recall in Arkansas Explained

With discussion in the Arkansas legislature of a possible effort to provide for recall of judges, there is new information available from Gavel to Gavel about the options that legislators or advocates might pursue.

A way to recall judges has been discussed in the wake of some leaders’ criticism of state Judge Chris Piazza over his recent ruling that struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab).

Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. Bill Raftery, who tracks legislation affecting state courts around the country, writes that if a legal “initiative” is pursued, it would require 62,507 signatures by July 7. If proponents of judicial recall seek a constitutional amendment, it would require 78,133 signatures. Read more

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Will Arkansas Citizens Get Capacity to Recall Judges?

His call to impeach an Arkansas judge over a controversial marriage ruling didn’t go anywhere, so the sponsor tried another route. He won a legislative panel’s approval of a resolution criticizing the judge. And he’s also talking about possible consideration of a system for recalling judges.stock-footage-arkansas-flag-loop

According to, the Arkansas Legislative Council approved state Sen. Jason Rapert’s resolution that said Judge Chris Piazza had “overstepped his judicial authority” and that urged the state Supreme Court to reverse his ruling. Judge Piazza struck down a state ban on marriage for same-sex couples (see Gavel Grab).

Rapert said some state leaders are discussing a possible effort to win adoption of a system enabling public recall of judges. One of the leaders, Jerry Cox of the Family Council, said, “I think there’s a high level of frustration among many voters about what they would call judicial activism — legislating from the bench.”

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Editorial: New Kansas Law is 'Payback' Against High Court

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopWhen Kansas legislators recently weakened the administrative authority of the state Supreme Court over all state courts, they were retaliating against the high court over its controversial decisions about public school funding and other matters, a Wichita Eagle editorial says.

What’s more, the legislation — signed into law by Gov. Sam Brownback — was an action taken in anger, “of questionable constitutionality doubling as payback and a brushback pitch,” the editorial contends.

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Commentary: Parallels in Kansas to Court-Bashing After 'Brown'

Kansas-Flag-2On the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, a defender of impartial courts finds disturbing parallels between the backlash that greeted Brown and retribution against the Kansas Supreme Court in modern times over its public school financing decisions.

“The courts voted in these cases to protect the constitutional rights of the less powerful and to expand rights to public education. Sadly, however, critics of Brown honed a political line of attack against the judiciary that still thrives in Topeka six decades later,” writes Ryan Wright, executive director of Kansans for Fair Courts and the Kansas Values Institute, in a Wichita Eagle op-ed.

Wright states that Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed into law recently a legislative attack on the court, a court funding measure that at the same time started taking apart a practice of keeping a unified budget for the courts. The state Supreme Court’s justices took exception to his signing the bill (see Gavel Grab). The op-ed also mentions other legislative assaults on Kansas courts, and concludes:

“While the lessons of Brown are many, one of its most lasting lessons is the enduring need for citizens to stand up tall for the courts that protect our rights.”

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ABA Journal Spotlights Op-Ed by JAS Board Members

JAS-LogoA Washington Post op-ed written by retired Justices Ruth McGregor and Randall Shepard, warning that courts face an “atmosphere of bullying” by politicians and partisans, landed before a national audience of lawyers when the ABA Journal spotlighted it.

The authors are Justice at Stake Board Members who led the state supreme courts of Arizona and Indiana, respectively. Their op-ed (see Gavel Grab) criticized a judicial impeachment effort in Oklahoma that was part of chaotic events preceding a bungled execution there. “The Oklahoma case is bad enough,” the jurists wrote. “But in state capitals across the nation, there are disturbing efforts by partisans, politicians and special interests to intimidate our courts.”

About special-interest spending in elections to pick state judges, they added, “These kinds of big-money judicial elections threaten to turn judges into politicians in black robes.”

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Commentary: Death of Judicial Independence in Oklahoma?

A week of tumult involving Oklahoma’s two highest courts, its governor and the legislative branch saw high tensions among the branches, as Gavel Grab mentioned earlier. Now veteran legal journalist Andrew Cohen has gone further, offering an analysis that amidst the “chaos,” “[J]udicial independence died last week in Oklahoma.”

At The Week, Cohen’s commentary is entitled, “Oklahoma just neutered its state Supreme Court.” Cohen details how the state Supreme Court issued stays of execution for two convicted murderers, during a conflict with the Court of Criminal Appeals; how the governor declared that the Supreme Court exceeded its authority and the executive branch would not honor its order; how a legislator called for impeachment of five Supreme Court justices in the majority granting the stays; and how the Supreme Court ultimately lifted the stays.

In Cohen’s analysis, both the executive and legislative branches acted in ways that threatened the separation of powers, and the Supreme Court “tragically, caved in to the political pressure.” Judicial independence was killed, he writes, “by shortsighted members of the executive and legislative branches of government, and by gutless judges.”


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Editorial: Is Overhaul Plan 'Political Payback' for Kansas Court?

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopLegislation passed by the Kansas legislature to increase state court funding — contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system — is criticized by a Wichita Eagle editorial.

The legislation, which state Supreme Court Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said threatens an independent judiciary (see Gavel Grab), would allow local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission; and take away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges.

The editorial says the overhaul warrants greater study and appears to be a step backward. Then it slams politicians pushing for the overhaul and urges a veto by Gov. Sam Brownback of the legislation:

“It also strikes many as political payback related to the high court’s school-funding or other decisions. In any case, it’s wrong for the Legislature to use its appropriations power to force unwanted and unwarranted systemic change on the judiciary. Though it’s highly doubtful that the governor will veto the bill, he should.” Read more

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