Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

In Texas, Another Court-Stripping Bill to Punish Judges

Texas State FlagA bill introduced in the Texas legislature closely mirrors one introduced in South Carolina earlier (see Gavel Grab) with an intent to punish state judges for handling cases involving marriage for same-sex couples.

The Texas bill provides, according to Gavel to Gavel, “A state or local governmental employee officially may not recognize, grant, or enforce a same-sex marriage license. If an employee violates this subsection, the employee may not continue to receive a salary, pension, or other employee benefit at the expense of the taxpayers of this State.”

After the South Carolina legislation was proposed, Justice at Stake Director of State Affairs Debra Erenberg criticized it as “a brazen political attack on the independence of the judicial branch.” Read more

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Proposals Threaten Washington Court, Editorial Warns

Washington_quarter,_reverse_side,_2007Two proposals to revise judicial elections for the Washington Supreme Court threaten the judiciary and must be rejected, a Bellingham (Washington) Herald editorial says.

One legislative proposal would shift from nonpartisan to partisan elections and the other would elect justices by geographic districts within the state, the editorial says. It characterizes the first as “ridiculous” and the second as “overtly political.”

In each case the proposals would invite big spending to influence the judicial elections, according to the editorial. Moreover, “Justices are not supposed to represent any constituency of people, but rather to be objective in reviewing laws and unresolved legal questions,” and statewide elections are appropriate, it adds.

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Court-Stripping South Carolina Bill Stirs Controversy

justice-scalesA bill filed in the South Carolina legislature is drawing attention for its intent to punish state judges for handling cases involving marriage for same-sex couples.   LGBT media, including the San Diego Gay and Lesbian News and Erie Gay News, highlighted the bill and Justice at Stake’s statement on it, which called the proposed legislation a “brazen” attack on the political independence of courts.   The proposed legislation would, among other things, prevent state judges from recognizing or upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples, and dock pay for judges who do not dismiss cases regarding these rights.  The San Diego Gay and Lesbian News also profiled the bill’s sponsor, a conservative Republican, and encouraged readers to contact him by including his email address and phone number.

The bill, HB 3022, goes to the state House Committee on the Judiciary and will be taken up in 2015.

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Bill on Switch to Partisan Court Elections Actually a ‘Poke’?

washington_flag_mapThere’s more pushback from the Washington state legislature over state Supreme Court rulings about the inadequacy of funding for public education.

A bill filed in the House by 19 representatives would shift the state from holding nonpartisan races for the Supreme Court to partisan races, and one of its sponsors labeled it more of a “poke” than substantive legislation, according to a Seattle Times blog.

The first section of the bill states, “The legislature finds that because the supreme court has decided to act like the legislature and has thus violated the separation of powers, the supreme court should be considered partisan like the legislature.” Read more

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On Campaign Trail, Kansas Court Ruling a Hot Topic

Sam Brownback, Paul DavisThe final, contentious weeks of the political season are seeing heated debate in Kansas over the state Supreme Court’s voiding death penalty sentences handed two brothers in a notorious quadruple killing. The brothers still face life prison terms in a separate killing.

Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback on Thursday endorsed removing two of the justices in the 6-1 court majority in the case, the Associated Press said; the pair, Justices Eric Rosen and Lee Johnson, are the only court members standing for retention in November. The Republican Party chairman called for defeating the two justices.

“I support the families and what they’re pushing — the non-retention vote,” Brownback said. Family members of some of the crime spree victims are advocating against retention of the justices. Brownback is running for reelection, and his campaign has begun a TV ad critical of the Supreme Court and saying opponent Paul Davis stands with “liberal judges who let the Carr brothers off the hook.” Read more

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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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