Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Judicial Independence' Category

Power Grab Threatens Kansas Supreme Court

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.

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O’Connor Stresses Judicial Independence in Decision Making

Solicitor General Elena Kagan Addresses Georgetown Law Center ConferenceRetired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, addressing an audience in Palm Beach, Florida, emphasized the importance of judicial independence.

“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

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Retired KS Justice: 'Save Our Independent Judiciary'

Six_Fred_DA“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 more

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Editorial Scorches Florida Amendment as Assault on Courts

florida-state-flagBy 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 more

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Online Ad Urges 'Yes' Vote on Changing TN Judicial Selection

Image from online ad

Image from online ad

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 more

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Brandenburg Gives Keynote Talk: 'Judges in a Fish Bowl'

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.

jas_logo“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 more

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Editorial: N.J. Judges Need Shielding From Political Assaults

US-POLITICS-CEOEnsuring 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 more

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In Washington Post, JAS Board Members Decry 'Bullying' of Courts

JAS JUDGESJustice 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 more

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JAS: 'Brown' Also Shows Importance of Independent Courts

Brown v Board 450 kbThe Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision sixty years ago is historic not only for its impact on civil rights and education but also for illustrating the importance of independent courts, Justice at Stake said in a statement on Friday, the eve of the anniversary.

“The federal judiciary is uniquely positioned to protect the rights of political minorities. It recognizes that the Constitution’s liberty and equality guarantees apply to everyone,” JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said. “Lifetime appointments for our federal judges allow federal courts to enforce the law even when it might not be popular or conflict with majority sentiment. Brown v. Board is an example of courage in action – the courage of plaintiffs, their civil rights lawyers and judges in order to arrive at a decision that honored principles central to our democracy.

“As we honor Brown v. Board, we have to pause to remember that challenges remain. Today, the struggle continues to integrate our nation’s schools and provide equal access to quality education.  Today, we continue to need to protect our courts’ ability to deliver democracy-protecting decisions, even when such decisions might be unpopular.  Calls to impeach judges and abolish lifetime tenure followed the Brown v. Board decision and such calls follow controversial decisions today.”

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Commentary: Death of Judicial Independence in Oklahoma?

A week of tumult involving Oklahoma’s two highest courts, its governor and the legislative branch saw high tensions among the branches, as Gavel Grab mentioned earlier. Now veteran legal journalist Andrew Cohen has gone further, offering an analysis that amidst the “chaos,” “[J]udicial independence died last week in Oklahoma.”

At The Week, Cohen’s commentary is entitled, “Oklahoma just neutered its state Supreme Court.” Cohen details how the state Supreme Court issued stays of execution for two convicted murderers, during a conflict with the Court of Criminal Appeals; how the governor declared that the Supreme Court exceeded its authority and the executive branch would not honor its order; how a legislator called for impeachment of five Supreme Court justices in the majority granting the stays; and how the Supreme Court ultimately lifted the stays.

In Cohen’s analysis, both the executive and legislative branches acted in ways that threatened the separation of powers, and the Supreme Court “tragically, caved in to the political pressure.” Judicial independence was killed, he writes, “by shortsighted members of the executive and legislative branches of government, and by gutless judges.”


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