Obama to Appeal Adverse Court Ruling on Immigration

The Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld 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. Today, the Obama administration said it will ask the Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

In the three-judge panel’s 2-1 ruling on Monday, the court said there was not adequate public notice provided by the administration before attempts were made to revise U.S. enforcement policies after the president announced his executive action, according to The Washington Post. 

The New York Times said the president’s plan to request a Supreme Court hearing sets up  “another high-stakes legal contest in the nation’s highest court over the fate of one of the president’s signature achievements.”

Lawsuit Challenging KS Judiciary Defunding Law Now in U.S. Court

A challenge by four district court judges of a Kansas law threatening to defund the entire Kansas judiciary has been moved from state to federal court.

The Associated Press reported that Kansas moved the case, contending that the litigation constitutes a federal due process claim. The lawsuit is challenges a state law provision that critics say is the latest attack by elected Kansas officials on fair and impartial courts (see Gavel Grab).

Judicial Vacancy Epidemic Continues to Sweep Across the States

Texas & CaliforniaCalifornia and Texas are only two of many states impacted by a judicial vacancy epidemic that has struck the nation in recent years.

The Associated Press addresses the issue with an article titled, “Wheels of Justice Slow at Overloaded Federal Courts.” The AP cites the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on the rising delay in resolving civil and criminal cases because of judges’ ever-increasing workload.

The article says that the challenges are “particularly acute” in some federal courts where the judges deal with double the workload of the national average, like in the Eastern Districts of California and Texas.

Not only has the Eastern District of California had a judicial vacancy for almost three years, the article says, but the court has not had an increase in judges since 1978, according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The AP reports that California’s Eastern District in Fresno is currently sustained by only one full-time district court judge, Lawrence O’Neill. The situation in the Eastern District of Texas is similar, the AP says.

According to the article, Judge O’Neill says, “We can slow things down because we simply can’t work any harder or faster… But the real important effect of that is people who need our help to move their lives forward are delayed.” 

Matt Menendez, a lawyer with the Brennan Center for Justice finds the judicial vacancies that the federal courts are facing today to be “quite bad.” The Brennan Center is a Justice at Stake partner organization.

Legal scholars say, “Congress needs to fill judicial vacancies more quickly but also increase the number of judges in some districts — both issues that get bogged down in partisan political fights over judicial nominees,” according to the AP.

Court Rejects Challenge to Time Limits on Judicial Fundraising

A three-judge panel of the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that Judge Colleen O’Toole, running for the Ohio Supreme Court as a Republican, must comply with state judicial rules that restrict when she may raise raise campaign money. The rules do not violate the First Amendment, the court said, according to Courthouse News Service.

O’Toole challenged a rule that judicial candidates may not raise campaign money more than 120 days before a primary contest. The court panel affirmed the judicial candidate rules.


Will an Automatic U.S. Budget Cut Strain Courts?

In a Newsday op-ed, David P. Miranda, the president of the New York State Bar Association, has warned of grave effects for people who use the federal courts if an automatic cut in U.S. spending, called “sequester” or “sequestration,” goes into effect.

“Our courts are critically important to our society, our economy and our democracy. They serve individuals and businesses and resolve disputes small and large. All New Yorkers will suffer if our reputation as the gold standard for legal disputes is tarnished,” Miranda wrote.

When there was  sequester in 2013, it spelled disaster for the courts, he added. “Yet, despite the costs of congressional failure in 2013, it seems likely — less than two weeks before this year’s budget deadline — that history will repeat itself.”

Trust in U.S. Courts Declines to New Low: Gallup

The number of Americans who say they have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in the U.S. judicial branch has declined to 53 percent, a record low, according to a new Gallup poll.

The trust rating compares to 45 percent for the executive branch and 32 percent for the legislative branch, both which recovered slightly from an earlier survey.

“The decline in trust in the judicial branch likely stems from the Supreme Court’s controversial decisions this year to legalize same-sex marriage and uphold a key provision of the Affordable Care Act allowing Americans to purchase subsidized health insurance through federally run marketplaces,” Gallup reported. “Democrats cheered those decisions while Republicans criticized them.”

Appeals Court: Party-Controlled IN Judicial Election Unconstitutional

IN_5516An unorthodox system for electing judges in Marion County, the largest county in Indiana and the home of the state capital, is unconstitutional, a panel of the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Wednesday.

According to The Indianapolis Star, the panel upheld a ruling issued almost a year ago by a federal district court judge (see Gavel Grab). Under the system declared unconstitutional,  the two major political parties were allowed to split the amount of judicial seats in half and nominate that exact number through primary elections. This way, candidates who received their party nominations were assured of a judgeship, the newspaper said.

The appeals court panel said that the law governing election of Marion County judges places a “severe burden” on an individual’s right to vote and violates the First and Fourteenth amendments. Responding to arguments by Indiana, the panel said the method does not necessarily bolster public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary: (more…)

Clerk in Marriage Dispute is Freed from Jail by Judge


BULLETIN: Kim Davis was freed from jail on Monday after the judge who had ordered her locked up said that her office was “fulfilling its obligation to issue marriage licenses to all legally eligible couples,” The New York Times reported. 

Several dozen activists protested on Monday outside the Campbell County home of U.S. District Judge David Bunning of Kentucky, who recently ordered Rowan County Clerk Kim Davis to jail because she refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

The judge ordered jailing of Davis for contempt of court. According to WKYT, her backers have carried signs at some events labeling the judge a tyrant.

Another public official who has made headlines for pushing back against the Supreme Court’s historic decision on marriage equality is Hamilton County, Tennessee Chancellor Jeffrey M. Atherton (see Gavel Grab). In a commentary at the Constitution Daily blog of the National Constitution Center, Lyle Denniston wrote that Atherton (more…)

Defiant Kentucky Clerk Ordered to Jail

BULLETIN: “Clerk Who Blocked Gay Weddings Is Ordered to Jail,” the New York Times reported on Thursday afternoon. 

A clerk of courts in Rowan County, Ky. who refused, based on her religious beliefs, to issue marriage licenses for same-sex couples was to appear before a federal judge on Thursday. Kim Davis, the clerk, has support from some conservative groups.

That support includes The Foundation for Moral Law, founded by Roy Moore, who is now Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice. A press release by the group praised Davis, according to news reports by On Top Magazine and WSFA.

A New York Times article detailed legal support for Davis and several other public officials by Liberty Counsel, a legal nonprofit group, and it mentioned praise for Liberty Counsel from a conservative leader who was sharply critical of the courts. (more…)

Some US Judges Want Reassessment of Criminal Sentencing

Acting on their own, a number of individual federal judges are joining in a push to closely examine and in some cases curtail long prison sentences handed to defendants, the New York Times reports.

“The popular view in our country has changed — we don’t want to hold somebody down forever and ever,” District Judge Larry Alan Burns of southern California said. “I think judges should be aware of those things.”