Archive for the 'Federal Courts' Category
A three-judge panel of the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to lift a lower court-ordered hold on President Obama’s executive action to protect as many as five million immigrants in the United States from deportation.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen of Texas had entered the injunction in February, and he was widely denounced for it in some quarters (see Gavel Grab). The Obama administration is appealing his order and asked that in the meantime, the program be permitted to proceed. Oral arguments on the merits of the litigation are tentatively planned for July, according to the Associated Press.
U.S. District Judge Callie Granade of Alabama has ruled again that same-sex couples have a right to wed in the state, and she held off implementation of her ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court takes a stand on related cases before it.
Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore has contended that Judge Granade had no right to tell state probate judges what they should do regarding marriage equality. These probate judges belong to a parallel state court system, he has argued, according to the Associated Press.
Judge Granade said in her ruling, “It is true that if this Court grants the preliminary injunction, the probate judges will be faced with complying with either Alabama’s marriage laws that prohibit same-sex marriage as they have been directed by the Alabama Supreme Court, or with complying with the United States Constitution as directed by this Court. However, the choice should be simple. Under the Supremacy Clause, the laws of the United States are the ‘supreme Law of the Land.’”
As the U.S. Senate is confirming judges “at a remarkably slow pace,” the federal court system had 44 vacancies on the district (trial court) level, and nine on the appellate level, the Wall Street Journal reports. There are currently 12 district nominees and two appellate nominees awaiting congressional approval.
The delays often have little to do with the nominees themselves. Instead, the federal bench hopefuls become caught in Washington’s notorious political gridlock. One candidate whose nomination has been pending since February, for instance, is backed by Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, yet still cannot snag a confirmation. Democrats blame Republicans for dragging their feet over unrelated disagreements, but a GOP spokeswoman recently placed the blame on Democrats, who “rammed through 11 federal judges during the Lame Duck [session].” The article says it is possible, but not likely, that a vote could be taken today for four of the nominees.
Nominees are not the only ones pending due to these political games; the impressive backlog of pending cases has skyrocketed nearly 20% since 2004, with more than 330,000 awaiting a decision.
The Washington Post was cited in this article.
U.S. judges have been all too silent about the “evils of mass incarceration,” Senior Federal District Judge Jed Rakoff says in a New York Review of Books essay, although the judiciary has done a good job in speaking out in opposition to minimum mandatory sentencing laws.
A few brave federal district judges have openly denounced the policy of mass incarceration, Judge Rakoff notes, and he credits Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy for telling a House panel recently that “this idea of total incarceration just isn’t working.”
Judge Rakoff appears to believe the issue is an appropriate one for consideration by federal judges. “It is probably too much to ask state judges in the thirty-seven states where judges are elected to adopt a position that could be characterized as ‘soft on crime,'” he writes. “But what about the federal judiciary, which is protected by lifetime tenure from political retaliation and, according to most polls, is generally well regarded by the public as a whole?” Read more
A three-judge panel of the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Thursday that the National Security Agency’s once-secret, bulk gathering of phone records of millions of Americans is illegal under the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main counterterrorism law.
“The government takes the position that the metadata collected — a vast amount of which does not contain directly ‘relevant’ information, as the government concedes — are nevertheless ‘relevant’ because they may allow the NSA, at some unknown time in the future, utilizing its ability to sift through the trove of irrelevant data it has collected up to that point, to identify information that is relevant,” the court said, according to The Washington Post.
“We agree with appellants that such an expansive concept of ‘relevance’ is unprecedented and unwarranted.” Plaintiffs included the American Civil Liberties Union. Read more
One of Idaho’s two federal district court judges is planning on taking senior status soon, leaving one full time judgeship open. Although President Obama will eventually make the nomination, the state’s Senators are leading the vetting process, the Spokesman-Review reports.
Senators Mike Crapo and Jim Risch have interviewed four candidates so far – all male. “Idaho is the only state in the federal 9th Circuit that has never had a woman judge on the U.S. District Court bench,” the article explains. Several women have submitted applications as early as December, and none has yet been contacted. Attorney Terrie Pickens Manweiler says she heard she is too progressive, and the article suggests that U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale, considered a front runner for the position, is being rejected for writing the decision that overturned Idaho’s same sex marriage ban.
MSNBC reports that King’s “Restrain the Judges on Marriage Act of 2015” has seven Republican co-sponsors. In a press release, King said:
“This bill strips federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases related to marriage. The effect of the bill would prevent federal courts from hearing marriage cases, leaving the issue to the States where it properly belongs. My bill strips Article III courts of jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court of appellate jurisdiction, ‘to hear or decide any question pertaining to the interpretation of, or the validity under the Constitution of, any type of marriage.'”
This type of “court stripping” by Congress has been proposed around other hot button issues in the past, including school prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance. This proposal, which would not survive a Democratic filibuster in the Senate or be signed into law by President Obama, but is yet another example of legislative attacks on the court.
President Obama has faced judicial opposition to many of his signature programs, including the Affordable Care Act and his executive actions on Immigration. A Bloomberg op-ed written by Noah Feldman claims that the judiciary has not shown so much opposition to a presidential agenda since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s initial New Deal.
Opposition to the National Industrial Recovery Act and the Agricultural Adjustment Act, key components of that original plan, were struck down by the Supreme Court. Roosevelt was forced to create more “institutionally moderate,” explains the article, in order to appease the Court’s conservative and moderate factions. Feldman goes on to suggest that Obama is having more trouble with the courts because activist judges are more accepted today.
Almost two weeks after voters approved a ballot measure to change the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, a heated debate continues over Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s legal challenge to the proposed constitutional amendment.
At Huffington Post, a commentary by Mary Bottari of the Center for Media and Democracy was headlined, “Walker’s Dark Money Allies Orchestrate Coup of the Courts.” Bottari extensively quoted David Schwartz, a law professor at the University of Wisconsin, as saying the legal challenge was an appropriate step to resolve a complicated legal questions.
In the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Editorial Page Editor David D. Haynes said the April 7th referendum was clearly aimed at demoting the sitting chief justice, and was an example of the kind of “vicious, hardball politics” played in Madison. But the voters have spoken, he said, Chief Justice Abrahamson lost, and there is little common-sense argument to be made in support of her legal challenge. Read more
A small band of voters who supported a referendum to change the selection method for the Wisconsin Chief Justice may not intervene in a lawsuit filed by Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson to challenge the newly passed amendment, U.S. District Judge James Peterson ruled.
The views of those supporting the constitutional amendment will be adequately presented by the Wisconsin attorney general, who is representing the state in the case, Judge Peterson found, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
To learn background about the lawsuit, click here for Gavel Grab. Meanwhile, on another front, the Associated Press reported that a key Wisconsin legislative panel parted ways with Republican Gov. Scott Walker and rejected his proposal to place the state Judicial Commission under control of the Wisconsin Supreme Court (see Gavel Grab).