Archive for the 'Justice at Stake' Category
The Oklahoma Supreme Court has reaffirmed its earlier ruling that a granite Ten Commandments monument on the state Capitol grounds must be removed, rejecting a request by the state for the court to reconsider its decision. This sets the stage for the marker to come down within a few weeks, according to the Oklahoman.
Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt had requested a rehearing, maintaining that the court “got it wrong.” But justices ruled 7-2 to deny the rehearing request. According to the Oklahoman, the court determined that “The monument violates a section of the Oklahoma Constitution prohibiting state property from being used to further religions.”
The court’s original decision on June 30 sparked impeachment threats against the seven justices who ruled that the monument must come down (see Gavel Grab). “This latest threat by Oklahoma legislators to bully the state’s Supreme Court is deeply disturbing,” Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said at the time, in a statement published in the Tulsa World. “When politicians threaten to remove judges from office for a single ruling, it strikes at the heart of the checks and balances system embedded in our democracy.”
U.S. Senator and presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s proposal to force U.S. Supreme Court justices to run in retention elections (see Gavel Grab) is “monumentally silly,” says Justice at Stake Campaign Executive Director Bert Brandenburg in a National Law Journal op-ed (available with free online log-in or through Google search).
Cruz’s proposal to amend the constitution to require periodic retention elections for the justices follows recent SCOTUS rulings on healthcare and marriage that have riled conservative critics. The idea is fraught with both practical and ethical challenges, notes Brandenburg.
“If sending Antonin Scalia or Ruth Bader Ginsburg out on the campaign trail sounds like a Saturday Night Live skit, it’s because it would turn more than 225 years of American constitutional culture on its head,” he writes. “Our founders — who knew something about popular sovereignty — consciously avoided electing judges because they wanted courts’ rulings to be based on the law and the constitution, not political pressure.”
Cruz joins other presidential candidates who have called for term limits and other restraints on the Supreme Court in the wake of recent controversial rulings. He has also said he will make reform of the court a central plank in his campaign platform.
Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb of Alabama, where appellate judges are chosen in partisan elections, called on Friday for all 50 states to use a system of judicial selection that ensures fair and impartial courts, and she said merit selection is the best approach.
“I truly believe that what we need is a transparent, diverse, merit selection committee established in every single state,” she said to applause in a keynote address at Justice at Stake’s 2015 Fair Courts State Summit. These committees would be “well balanced, have lay people as well as lawyers, have Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” and diversity in geography and “every other category,” she said, and they would screen interested candidates and make recommendations of those who are most qualified. Read more
A firestorm has followed the Oklahoma Supreme Court’s 7-2 ruling that a Ten Commandments marker is unconstitutional and must be removed from the state Capitol grounds. “A politician in this country needs to wage war against the judiciary,” thundered FOX News contributor Eric Erickson. A state legislator said the high court could be reduced to one judge or its funding halved, the Edmond Sun reported. Politicians’ threats of impeaching the seven justices continued.
Amid the furor, the Tulsa World quoted Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton about the dangers of impeachment threats. “This latest threat by Oklahoma legislators to bully the state’s Supreme Court is deeply disturbing,” she said (see Gavel Grab). “When politicians threaten to remove judges from office for a single ruling, it strikes at the heart of the checks and balances system embedded in our democracy.” Read more
“The latest threat by Oklahoma legislators to bully the state’s Supreme Court is deeply disturbing,” Justice at Stake Deputy Executive Director Liz Seaton said on Wednesday after several legislators had voiced support for the impeachment of seven justices.
“When politicians threaten to remove judges from office for a single ruling, it strikes at the heart of the checks and balances system embedded in our democracy. Judges and justices must be permitted to rule fairly and impartially, in accordance with the facts and the law, without political interference or intimidation. Otherwise none of us will be assured of our fair day in court, as judges will be stripped of their ability to fulfill their essential role in protecting all our rights under law.”
On Tuesday, a small group of state legislators announced their intent to pursue impeachment proceedings against those Oklahoma Supreme Court justices who comprised the majority in declaring that a granite Ten Commandments marker must be removed from the state Capitol grounds. Read more
Justice at Stake, remarking on the numerous attacks on courts that preceded the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling on Friday, called the 5-4 decision “a vivid illustration of the central role of courts in our society and democracy” and a reminder of the importance of protecting impartial courts.
“Today’s ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, upholding marriage rights for same-sex couples, is a vivid illustration of the central role of courts in our society and democracy – and a reminder of how vigilantly their independence and impartiality must be protected. As the issue of marriage rights has progressed through the courts, we have seen numerous calls for impeachment of judges and punitive measures designed to strip courts of their authority. Today’s decision will come under fire as well, especially since we are entering a heated political season. But we must always bear in mind that courts are not beholden to politicians or public sentiment, only to the law and the constitution.”
As Pennsylvania legislators consider a new bill to do away with elections of appellate judges and replace them with merit selection, NewsWorks has quoted Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg about how merit systems can help.
Merit selection “has worked well in a couple dozen states for awhile now. It most of the time has reduced the political mischief and the kind of big money Pennsylvania has seen,” Brandenburg said, according to NewsWorks, the online home of WHYY news in Philadelphia.
Commission members have largely succeeded in focusing on quality in vetting judicial candidates, he said. “[Members] may have their own political background, but they tend to check it at the door. It’s very important for any commission to establish a culture where that happens. In Arizona, for example … they actually broadcast the proceedings on the Internet, people can watch and see that people actually are checking their politics.” Brandenburg added, “In the end, that’s what you want — a quality judge, appointed without political games, and a commission that’s properly diverse and properly transparent.” Read more
A bill to replace contested elections of appellate judges in Pennsylvania with a merit-based appointment process was introduced in the state House by legislators from both parties. It was unveiled amid discussion of a need to reform Pennsylvania judicial selection.
A Philadelphia Inquirer article said supporters of the bill are concerned about an appearance that big spending on judicial elections delivers influence on court decisions, and it cited Justice at Stake in reporting that an appointive system using a commission to screen judicial applicants exists in 22 states.
“It’s getting more people to scratch their heads and say, there’s got to be a better way,” Lynn Marks of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, a JAS partner organization, told the newspaper about judicial election spending. Details of the legislation are available from the PMC’s web page about judicial selection reform. Read more
Justice at Stake is urging the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to uphold rules from the Arizona Code of Judicial Ethics limiting partisan political activity by sitting judges and judicial candidates.
An amicus brief was submitted in support of the Arizona Commission on Judicial Conduct on behalf of Justice at Stake, the Brennan Center for Justice, the Arizona Judges’ Association, The Campaign Legal Center, Inc., and Lambda Legal. All but the Arizona Judges’ Association are JAS partner organizations.
“The 9th Circuit will be the first federal court to interpret the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Williams-Yulee v. The Florida Bar, which made clear that states can adopt carefully-designed rules of judicial conduct to preserve public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary,” Read more
Arkansas continues to debate whether to switch from electing appellate judges to appointing them, and an Arkansas Business Online article about the issue prominently features Justice at Stake.
“Judges should be chosen based on their qualifications, not based on their partisan politics or their ability to fundraise,” said Liz Seaton, JAS deputy executive director.
Regarding state judicial elections nationwide, “What we’re seeing is this higher and higher spending,” Seaton said. “And when campaign cash flows into courtrooms, that just doesn’t bode well for impartial justice in this country.” Read more