In Arizona, a State Court-Stripping Bill is Narrowly Defeated

ArizonaOn close votes, the Arizona Senate twice has defeated House-passed legislation to bar state courts, among others, from enforcing actions of the United States government — including its courts — that constitute “commandeering” of Arizona officials.

On April 5 the Senate defeated the proposal by a 14-15 vote, according to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts,  and on April 15, following a motion to reconsider, the measure failed on a 15-15 tie.

Gavel to Gavel reported earlier that “the ‘anti-commandeering’ law would allow the legislature to order state and local officials not to ‘enforce, administer, or cooperate with any action of the United States government that constitutes commandeering.’”

Arizona is Indeed a Court-Control Battleground, Editor Agrees

State courts have become battlegrounds for often-acrimonious and sorely political fights over control, and the struggle in Washington over filling a Supreme Court vacancy mirrors the conflict in the states, City Editor Tim Wiederaenders writes in a (Prescott, Arizona) Daily Courier opinion.

Wiederaenders relies on an Associated Press article this week (see Gavel Grab) spotlighting  partisan political efforts in both state elections and in state capitals to control fair and impartial courts. In Arizona, a bill is advancing in the legislature to expand the state Supreme Court from five to seven justices, a step that Justice at Stake has denounced as “court packing.”

Also, the Arizona Senate is set to vote on House-passed legislation that would bar state courts, among others, from enforcing actions of the United States government — including its courts — that constitute “commandeering” of state officials. (more…)

Oklahoma Bill Would Let Citizens Overturn High Court

Legislators unhappy with Oklahoma court rulings have threatened or drafted legislation for a grab-bag of responses, including impeaching judges, electing judges and tampering with the appointive system that’s in place. Now they’re trying an out-of-the-box idea.

A bill introduced in the legislature this week would allow Oklahoma citizens to overturn certain rulings of the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Under the proposed constitutional amendment, according to Gavel to Gavel, “Any decision of the state’s supreme court regarding the constitutionality of a law would be subject to an override by popular vote.” The provision would not apply to the state’s Court of Criminal Appeals. Gavel to Gavel is a publication of the National Center for State Courts, a Justice at Stake partner organization.

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.”


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.

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.

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. (more…)

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. (more…)

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.

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. (more…)