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.

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. (more…)

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.” (more…)

North Carolina Budget Provision Shields State Laws

CORRECTION MADE: Indy Week now has stated it incorrectly reported that Ola Lewis was “unaffiliated.” She is a registered Republican.

According to Michael Papich in an article published by Indy Week, a provision in the North Carolina state budget that was signed into law on August 7 requires all constitutional challenges to state laws to be heard by a three judge panel at the trial level. That panel’s members, which are to consist of one judge each from the Eastern, Central, and Western portions of North Carolina, will be appointed by the Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, a position that has become more partisan in recent years.

Papich writes that the race for the position of Chief Justice “pits Ola Lewis, an unaffiliated Superior Court judge, against Mark Martin, an outspoken conservative, who ran as a Republican before judicial races became ostensibly nonpartisan.”At the same time, “New election laws have eliminated public financing for judicial races, so now judges’ seats are more susceptible to big money from out-of-state donors,” he writes.

Papich contends that the Republican-controlled legislature inserted the provision to protect conservative policy agendas that the courts have struck down in recent years, including private school voucher programs, abortion restrictions, and, potentially, voter I.D. laws.

Federal Gun Law Nullification Effort Dies in Missouri Legislature

In the waning moments of Missouri’s legislative session, minority Democrats filibustered a bill to nullify some federal gun laws, and the measure died.

Majority Republicans were split earlier about how aggressively the legislation should punish officials who enforced certain federal gun laws that were judged to have infringed on Missourians’ Second Amendment rights, the Associated Press reported. The House put its final approval on a compromise and sent it to the Senate with only 30 minutes in the session remaining.

Each chamber had passed earlier a version that would have allowed lawsuits against officials who enforce gun laws that are found to infringe upon Missourians’ Second Amendment rights. Justice at Stake said, “Surely state legislators have better things to do than pursue fruitless efforts to punish judges for enforcing the law of the land” (see Gavel Grab).


JAS Criticizes Missouri Bill to Nullify U.S. Gun Laws

BULLETIN: “Surely state legislators have better things to do than pursue fruitless efforts to punish judges for enforcing the law of the land,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said on Thursday about a Missouri nullification bill. “Nullification has been rejected throughout American history as an attack on democracy and the rule of law.  Rather than usurping the Constitution, state lawmakers who want to change federal gun laws should do what every other citizen has to: write their member of Congress.”

A Missouri Senate committee has approved a House-passed bill that would nullify federal restrictions on gun ownership in Missouri.

Missouri-gun-bill-aims-to-nullify-US-gun-laws-in-the-stateThe bill approved by the Senate General Laws Committee deems void “federal statutes, executive orders, administrative orders, court orders, rules, regulations, or other actions which restrict or prohibit the manufacture, ownership, and use of firearms,” reported Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts.

The legislation specifically bars Missouri judges from giving legal recognition to laws or federal court orders restricting gun ownership in Missouri, saying, “It shall be the duty of the courts…of this state to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms within the borders of this state and to protect these rights from the infringements defined in section 1.322.” (more…)

Stripping Tennessee High Court of Key Appointment is Rejected

Another legislative proposal to strip the Tennessee Supreme Court of its authority to appoint the state’s attorney general has gone down to defeat.

For the second time in as many months the state Senate defeated a proposed constitutional amendment to have Tennessee voters elect the attorney general, the Associated Press reported.

Only in Tennessee does the state’s highest court appoint the attorney general, according to a report last month by Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts. In other states the attorney general is either elected, appointed by the governor or by the legislature.

More than two dozen bills have sought since 1997 to remove the state Supreme Court’s authority to appoint the attorney general, according to Gavel to Gavel. (more…)

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Controversial Injunction Bill

Wisconsin’s Assembly passed and sent to the state Senate a bill that would restrict the ability of circuit court judges to block state laws.

Last month, two critics of the measure said it has the effect of “putting citizens at risk of irreparable harm from constitutional violations” (see Gavel Grab). The critics are Matthew Menendez, counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Andrea Kaminski, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Education Network. The Brennan Center and the League of Women Voters are JAS partner groups.

If the measure became law, an order by a circuit court could be appealed immediately, and if that were done inside 10 days, the lower court’s order would be stayed. This would apply when a circuit judge, ruling on a state law, restrained its enforcement or suspended the statute. (more…)

Update: State Efforts to Restrict Islamic Law in Courts

Oklahoma has adopted a new ban on use of foreign or international law in state courts, after federal courts had invalidated earlier Oklahoma restrictions that specifically identified Sharia, or Islamic law.

Earlier this week Gavel Grab discussed a growing movement to restrict Islamic law in our courts, and Oklahoma’s invalidated law was mentioned. Thanks to Gavel to Gavel, a publication of the National Center for State Courts, there is fresh news about recent efforts in Oklahoma and other states. The new Oklahoma ban does not specifically mention Sharia.

The Gavel to Gavel headline goes a long way in updating the news: “Bans on court use of sharia/international law: OK approves new ban; WA approves modified version; AL approves sweeping constitutional amendment; MO governor may sign or veto.”

The National Center for State Courts is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Obama Invites Congress to Consider Lethal Strike Oversight Options

In a key speech on counterterrorism policies and drone strikes, President Obama invited Congress on Thursday to consider ways for “increased oversight” of lethal action outside warzones, including creation of a secret court or an executive branch panel. He said each option “poses difficulties in practice.”

Here are Obama’s specific remarks on the topic, taken from a text of his speech as prepared for delivery:

“Going forward, I have asked my Administration to review proposals to extend oversight of lethal actions outside of warzones that go beyond our reporting to Congress. Each option has virtues in theory, but poses difficulties in practice. For example, the establishment of a special court to evaluate and authorize lethal action has the benefit of bringing a third branch of government into the process, but raises serious constitutional issues about presidential and judicial (more…)