Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category
Controversy over strings attached to the Kansas judicial budget is attracting coverage across the state and nation. Under new legislation, the entire state court operating budget for 2016 and 2017 would be cut if the state Supreme Court rules recent administrative changes unconstitutional.
The Wall Street Journal says that legal experts believe “the legislation may be the first to peg the Third Branch’s budget to the outcome of an individual case, and public-interest groups described it as the most pointed challenge to judicial independence in recent memory.” An editorial in the Lawrence Journal-World describes the legislation as “blackmail” and a “power grab,” whereby “lawmakers are trying to alter the roles, responsibilities and fundamental balance of power among the state’s three branches of government.”
“If legislators and the governor think the Kansas Constitution is wrong,” the editorial reads, “they should tackle that issue head-on and seek to change it — not use budget blackmail to try to force the state’s independent judiciary to change its mind.” An op-ed in the Kansas City Star agrees, arguing that the bill is about control, not about decentralizing power as proponents assert.
Watch Gavel Grab as this story develops.
The Wichita Eagle posted an editorial criticizing the Kansas legislature for punitively stripping the Supreme Court of budgetary powers.
The state’s high court has the constitutional power over “general administrative authority over all courts in this state,” but the 2014 judicial budget countered this provision. Moreover, the law included “a non-severability clause [which] guaranteed that if a court struck down the policy changes as unconstitutional, the judicial funding would fall, too.” Partnered with the court’s recent blocking of some major legislation, the editorial contends that the move sent a “clear message”
The 2015 judicial budget, which was recently approved by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, contains a similar clause, but specifies the funding will be revoked for two fiscal years if the measure is ruled unconstitutional.
A 2014 change in Kansas Supreme Court authority is being challenged in the courts as more significant changes advance in the state House.
The Associated Press reports that two bills to change how Kansas Supreme Court justices are selected sailed through the House Judiciary Committee on Monday. The proposals would make the process more political, either implementing a Federal System of direct gubernatorial appointment subject to state Senate approval, or partisan elections.
“People don’t often realize the significance of judicial independence,” Justice O’Connor said, according to the Palm Beach Daily News. “We do have laws and principles developed over the years to protect judicial independence in decision-making. … I have traveled the world, and not many countries have had the concepts that have served us so well.”
Justice O’Connor is First Honorary Chair of Justice at Stake. Read more
“Kansans should be concerned” that a new court funding law threatens the independence of the state judiciary and violates the separation of powers of the three government branches, retired Kansas Justice Fred N. Six writes in a Wichita Eagle op-ed. He advocates for its repeal.
The new law provides increased court funding while making those funds contingent upon overhauling administration of the judicial system. It allows local courts to opt out of state Supreme Court control over budget preparation and submission and takes away the Supreme Court’s authority to pick chief district court judges (see Gavel Grab).
“As citizens,” Justice Six writes, “we are entitled to a fair day in court, whether to ensure that our rights are protected or our legal disputes are decided impartially. We should be extremely skeptical of efforts by the legislative or executive branches to manipulate the powers assigned to the Kansas Supreme Court by our constitution and make the courts subservient to the political branches.” He concludes: Read moreNo comments
By voting no on a proposed constitutional amendment about judicial appointments, an Orlando Sentinel editorial declares, “Floridians can repudiate this latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts.”
The proposed amendment would allow an outgoing governor to make prospective judicial appointments to fill certain vacancies that take effect on inauguration day. The editorial slams it as reflecting “crude power politics” and representing another in a series of “misguided attempts to assert more control over the courts” by legislators in Tallahassee.
While supporters of the proposed amendment say it is needed to avert a potential constitutional crisis due to confusion about existing law, the editorial asserts that a Florida Supreme Court advisory opinion in 2006 clarifies that an incoming governor has the relevant appointment power. The editorial says an amendment is not needed. Read moreNo comments
A new online ad was rolled out by supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way appellate judges are selected in Tennessee. It is narrated by former U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, a Republican.
The ad says the constitutional amendment would “prevent outsiders from buying our courts” and “protect our vote” on whether appellate judges get another term. It spotlights support for the proposal from Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, and former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat. It comes as debate over the proposal is heating up.
The Nashville Post reported that state Sen. Mark Norris, the Republican majority leader, said attacks on three Tennessee Supreme Court justices in advance of last month’s retention election could hurt prospects for the amendment when voters go to the polls. In The Tennessean, an op-ed by George Scoville asked, “Would the Founding Fathers Support Amendment 2?” Read moreNo comments
When courts are facing all too frequent attacks, it’s time for those who care to stand up and help educate the public about why fair courts matter for everyone, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said on Wednesday.
“The simple fact is that our courts and judges face a rising common culture of attacks on the independence and legitimacy of our judiciary,” Brandenburg said in a keynote address in Boston to the annual meeting of the National Organization of Bar Counsel, whose members enforce legal ethics rules. It was held during the American Bar Association annual meeting. His speech was entitled, “Judges in a Fish Bowl.”
From a “[c]ash has become king” trend in spending on bitterly contested judicial elections, to court-bashing by legislators and executive branch officials and others, Brandenburg warned, “I believe that we are seeing elements of a permanent national campaign against independent courts.”
“But if courts want to remain independent of political pressure, they must have public confidence,” he said. “And in a culture whose norms are becoming more demanding of transparency, and less forgiving Read moreNo comments
Ensuring fair and impartial courts is a hot topic in New Jersey, even after Gov. Chris Christie defused the possibility of one crisis by reappointing state Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner (see Gavel Grab).
Unlike Justice Rabner, a (Newark) Star-Ledger editorial says, “More than 180 trial judges don’t have tenure and remain threatened,” and state judges are “understandably rattled” since Christie refused for the first time in state history to reappoint two other Supreme Court justices.
The editorial, entitled “Shield all NJ judges from political retribution,” endorses the idea of a constitutional amendment saying that only in instances of judicial incompetence can governors remove judges from the bench. Read moreNo comments
Justice at Stake Board Members Ruth McGregor and Randall Shepard decried in a Washington Post op-ed an “atmosphere of bullying” that is threatening fair and impartial courts. The authors are retired chief justices of state supreme courts in Arizona and Indiana, respectively.
The op-ed on Monday was entitled “Keep politics out of the courthouse.” It highlighted events in Oklahoma, where a legislative resolution to impeach five state Supreme Court justices preceded their voting to lift a stay of execution for convicted murderer Clayton Lockett. When his bungled execution followed, it sparked national debate.
“[W]e believe our treasured American system of checks and balances is harmed when our courts are threatened with intimidation. Our courts were designed to be the branch of government most insulated from politics,” wrote Justice McGregor and Justice Shepard. Read moreNo comments