Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Court Jurisdiction' Category

Scholar’s Concern: When Politicians Browbeat Our Courts


Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican candidate for president, recently introduced a bill to bar federal courts from ruling on state marriage laws. In Huffington Post, a legal scholar calls the measure “bullying” and akin to declaring “war on the independent judiciary.”

Cruz introduced in April his Protect Marriage from the Courts Act of 2015. “Judges have taken an unprecedented activist role to strike down state marriage laws,” he said at the time.  But Law Professor Alex Glashausser of Washburn University in Topeka, Ks. writes at Huffington Post that Cruz’s approach is misguided, and like court defunding legislation recently signed into law in Kansas (see Gavel Grab), a kind of court bashing:

“This legislative attempt to restrain the judicial branch violates the separation-of-powers doctrine, and the invitation to state judges to ignore a Supreme Court decision makes a hash of the constitutional enshrinement of federal law as ‘the supreme Law of the Land.'”

“If the political branches wield necessities like jurisdiction and budgets as weapons for browbeating courts into submission, the damage to judicial independence will in turn erode the rule of law.”

Read more

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Court-Stripping Measures Sought in Event of MN Shutdown

Minnesota_quarter,_reverse_side,_2005With Minnesota budget talks unresolved and a state government shutdown possible, legislators have introduced bill language to block the courts from ordering funding of essential services in event of a shutdown, according to Gavel to Gavel.

One measure states that in event of a shutdown, “except for funding for public safety, a court may not order any expenditure of an amount in the treasury to fund any operation of state government.” Another states that the courts would be barred from ordering any expenditures.

Partial state government shutdowns occurred in Minnesota in 2005 and in 2011.

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Cruz Wary of ‘Illegitimate’ Court Ruling on Marriage Equality

U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican presidential candidate, told an Iowa audience that if the Supreme Court legalizes marriage for same-sex couples, it would be a “fundamentally illegitimate” ruling.

And if such a ruling comes from the nation’s highest court, Cruz said he would push Congress to remove federal court jurisdiction over the issue, the Dallas Morning News reported.

You can learn more from the Justice at Stake web page about court-stripping,  the removal of specific cases, or types of cases, from a court’s jurisdiction. This prevents courts from playing their vital role in our system of checks and balances—protecting individual rights, and ensuring that other branches of government uphold the law and Constitution.

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Report: Bill Would Strip KS High Court of Criminal Appellate Review

stock-footage-kansas-flag-loopA bill to split the Kansas Court of Appeals into two divisions, one criminal and one civil, and strip the state Supreme Court of authority to review criminal appeals was introduced Friday, according to Gavel to Gavel.

The bill has similar features to one introduced in the Kansas legislature in 2013 that did not succeed. It comes during a period of numerous attacks on the way Kansas courts do business, the way judges are selected, and the authority of the courts themselves. This  session, a high-profile effort is under way in the legislature to eliminate merit selection of Supreme Court justices, and Gov. Sam Brownback has voiced support. Read more

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Texas Bill Would Defy a Supreme Court Ruling for Marriage Equality

Texas State FlagHow many ways can legislators craft to punish judges for handling cases involving marriage for same-sex couples — or defy a Supreme Court ruling, if it occurs, that strikes down bans on these marriages?

In Texas, a recently filed bill would amend existing state law declaring that a marriage exists solely between one man and one woman by adding: “regardless of whether a federal court ruling or other federal law provides that a prohibition against the creation or recognition of a same-sex marriage or a civil union is not permitted under the United States Constitution.”

This legislation was reported by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization. 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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Judge-Impeachment Advocate Now Wants a New Oklahoma Court

Rep. Christian

Rep. Christian

Oklahoma state Rep. Mike Christian, who unsuccessfully sought the impeachment of five state Supreme Court justices last year, has filed legislation to create a court of last resort to hear only death penalty appeals.

Christian wanted to impeach the justices over their issuing stays of execution for two condemned inmates. Ultimately the justices lifted the stays (see Gavel Grab). His new measure for a constitutional amendment would give the legislature total “discretion in terms of the court’s composition, terms of judges, and how those judges are selected/appointed,” according to a Gavel to Gavel article.

That selection method contrasts with the merit selection method now in place for selecting members of the existing two courts of last resort, the Supreme Court, which handles civil matters, and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Read more

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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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Editorial Decries Partisan N.C. Bid to 'Muzzle the Judges'

NORTH-CAROLINA-FLAG-300x224With a new law for weighing the constitutionality of statutes passed by North Carolina’s legislature, Republican leaders are working to “[m]uzzle the judges,” a (Raleigh) News & Observer editorial declares.

It’s because Republican legislators have been passing poorly crafted laws that individual Superior Court judges have overturned recently some statutes, the editorial says. It’s not the judges who are the problem, it asserts, and by creating special three-judge panels to hear challenges to such laws in the future (see Gavel Grab), Republicans “have moved to make judges more compliant toward the General Assembly.”

The three-judge panels will be named by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and “Republican judges control the state Supreme Court thanks to a flood of outside money that has thoroughly politicized the once low-profile elections,” the editorial continues. Read more

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New Criticism for 3-Judge Panel System in North Carolina

A provision in a budget approved by the North Carolina legislature,  to change the way state courts weigh challenges to the constitutionality of laws passed by the General Assembly, is getting scrutiny in state news media.

“The public is going to perceive this is some kind of special court that limits their ability to challenge legislative acts,” said Catharine Arrowood, president of the North Carolina Bar Association. “We don’t want the public thinking judges are in any way not impartial or not fair,” she told The (Raleigh) News & Observer.

Said Sharon Gladwell, a spokesperson for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, “We believe this concept should have been given additional review and consideration from appropriate stakeholders. We have both legal and practical concerns with this provision.” Read more

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