Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

Op-Ed: WI Ballot Measure Would Sanction Attack on Court

Seal_of_the_Supreme_Court_of_Wisconsin.svgFormer Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Janine P. Geske and four other attorneys are vigorously opposing a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way the Chief Justice is selected.

“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

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‘Contempt for Kansas’ Courts’ Shown by Legislators: Editorial

E69CB0D6193F5A84493B30750C6D812DKansas 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.”


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Opinion: Amid Attacks on Courts, Kansans Should be ‘Alarmed’

“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.”

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JAS Board Member, Deputy ED on Marriage and Courts

Liz and JamieIn 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.

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Are Planned Cuts to KS Court Funding Request Part of Larger Battle?

KansasKansas 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

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First Approval From Arizona House for Court Expansion Bill

ArizonaThe 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

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JAS: Arizona Supreme Court Bill Attempted ‘Court-Packing’

Bert Brandenburg

Bert Brandenburg

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.”

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Article: On Enforcing School Funding, How Far Will WA Court Go?


The Washington Supreme Court has grabbed a lot of attention, and retaliatory backlash, with rulings that the state was not fulfilling its obligation to pay enough for K-12 public education. Now a Seattle Times article looks at Washington as a “testing ground … for how far state courts will go to enforce their rulings.”

If Washington legislators don’t find enough money this year to comply with the court’s rulings, the article asks, will the justices react in a muscular way as did the Kansas Supreme Court several years ago, or “give up” as did the Ohio Supreme Court more than a decade ago?

The lengthy article focuses on adequate funding for public education and how courts in different states have handled the issue. At the same time there are implications for defenders of impartial courts because unhappy legislators sometimes launch attacks to sway courts or reduce their independence. Read more

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Report: Walker’s Budget Could Cut Chief Justice’s Pay

Justice Abrahamson

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Gov. Scott Walker’s office says the Wisconsin governor actually is recommending a raise for all associate justices on the state Supreme Court. See Gavel Grab.)

A little-noticed provision in a Wisconsin budget bill submitted by Gov. Scott Walker could cut the salary of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson by $8,000, to the $144,495 salary of associate justices, according to the Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.

“This is only the latest in a series of partisan attacks on Wisconsin’s Chief Justice who is the leading liberal and leading intellectual of the court,” Mary Bottari and Jonas Persson wrote in the PR Watch piece.

David Schwartz, a University of Wisconsin constitutional law expert, said a section of the Wisconsin Constitution “flatly forbids diminishing the compensation of any public officer, including justices of the Supreme Court, ‘during the term of office’.” The law professor said he believes “the purpose of this provision in the Wisconsin Constitution is in part to safeguard the independence of the judiciary by protecting judges from politically motivated attacks on their compensation.” Read more

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Legislation Would Strip Some Authority of Iowa Supreme Court

45960194-03085715Almost five years ago, voters removed three justices from the Iowa Supreme Court over a controversial ruling by the court about marriage for same-sex couples. Now, marriage for same-sex couples is the topic of anti-court legislation in the state.

According to Gavel to Gavel, a bill in the legislature would bar court registrars from granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples until a constitutional amendment on the topic is submitted to state voters, and it would bar the state Supreme Court from engaging in any appellate review of the marriage license ban.

The justices removed in the 2010 Iowa Supreme Court retention election had participated in a unanimous 2009 ruling that found it unconstitutional to deny civil marriage to same-sex couples. Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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