Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Bashing' Category

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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Report: Politicians Target Courts Over School Funding Orders

A new report by the Center for American Progress finds that “Conservative politicians are lashing out at courts that order equal funding for education,” as the report’s title states, and they are seeking to remove judges, reduce their authority or give the legislative and executive branches “exclusive control” over appointing judges.

According to the report by Billy Corriher, director of research for Legal Progress at CAP, some of the legislative proposals “violate the separation of powers principles in their respective state constitutions.”

The report takes a close look at Alaska, Kansas, New Jersey and Washington. Among the hostile actions against impartial courts that it cites are New Jersey Chris Christie’s declining to appoint a veteran state Supreme Court justice in 2010 (see Gavel Grab), a proposal to shrink the Washington Supreme Court from nine justices to five by having its members draw straws to see who steps down (see Gavel Grab), and “explicit threats” by leading Kansas Republicans to change the way state Supreme Court justices are selected if the high court went a certain way in issuing an education funding directive (see Gavel Grab).

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Bill to Shrink Washington Supreme Court is Killed

Washington’s Senate Rules Committee has deep-sixed a proposal to cut the size of the state Supreme Court through attrition from nine members to seven. The proposal was alternately seen as money-saving or court-bashing (see Gavel Grab).

The legislation was sent to the Senate Rules Committee’s “X” File last week, which effectively means it was killed, reported Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. Earlier, a separate Senate committee had sent the bill to the full Senate. Read more

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In Oklahoma Leadership Shuffle, Some Anti-Court Measures Die

Capitol DomeWhen T.W. Shannon was Oklahoma House Speaker early this year, he submitted at least eight bills  to revise the way Oklahoma Supreme Court justices are selected and how long they can serve on the bench (see Gavel Grab).

Last week, in the wake of Shannon’s leaving the state House in February, his eight judicial reform measures died when the first key legislative deadline passed, according to a Tulsa World article.  His legislative package apparently died in the shuffle of the House leadership, the newspaper said; the new House Speaker, Rep. Jeff Hickman, has pursued other priorities.

Shannon had made no secret of his unhappiness with a state Supreme Court ruling on tort reform last year. He  introduced bills to set judicial retirement ages and term limits, revise judicial  selection and create a new Judicial Performance Evaluation Board. He has left the state House to run for the U.S. Senate.

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