Gavel Grab

Archive for the 'Recusal' Category

Judicial Recusal Proposal Floated in Wisconsin

Democratic legislators in Wisconsin have called for stricter judicial recusal standards in the wake of controversy over a decision by two state Supreme Court justices who chose not to recuse themselves from participating in a ruling that ended a campaign finance investigation.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal, the proposal would require “judges to recuse themselves from cases involving donors to their campaigns.” The article did not provide any details of the proposal, which was part of a package called for by Democratic legislators.  

You can learn about the controversy, and the background leading up to it, from Gavel Grab.

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Editorial: Are Critics Assailing WA High Court for Political Gain?

washingtonstatecapitol2An editorial by The Olympian suggests that with tensions simmering in the Washington legislature over state high court rulings on school funding, critics may be assailing the court for political gain.

The tension was evident in the McCleary case on public school funding. According to The Olympian, the court concluded that the state violated the Constitution, requesting a funding plan for basic education by 2018. When lawmakers responded with a $2.4 billion plan, the legislators did not make any changes to the schools’ funding, the editorial says, leaving districts unequally funded.

The Olympian adds that in a recent case on charter schools, the court nullified state funding of the charters. While the Washington Education Association was an “interested party” in the case, the editorial says, “it’s outlandish to think campaign contributions of up to $1,900 from the state’s largest teachers union to seven justices sealed the deals.”

Recently, legislators have unveiled proposals to require recusal of a justice if his or her campaign gets campaign donations of $1,000 or more from a party to a case, or for the public financing of judicial elections. “The real driver behind the initiative, … is ire over the high court’s handling of school funding issues,” the editorial asserts. “Court critics may just be stirring public passions in order to drum support for conservatives running for the court next year; if so, we understand.”


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Kansas Attorney General Asks High Court to Recuse

Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt has asked the state Supreme Court to recuse itself from hearing an appeal of a ruling that struck down a statute removing some of the high court’s authority. The statute took away the Supreme Court’s authority to appoint chief district judges. The ruling has been put on hold to permit an appeal.

At the same time, Schmidt said his office would recuse from defending Kansas against a lawsuit by four district court judges. The lawsuit challenges a budgetary law provision that critics say threatens to defund the entire judiciary because it makes full funding contingent upon the judge-appointment provision surviving intact (see Gavel Grab). Schmidt, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, said he would recuse because his office was representing one of the judges in a separate case.

Kansas Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said earlier that courts sometimes handle cases under the “doctrine of necessity” even though they involve the court system itself.

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Conservative WI Justices Were Targeted, Wall Street Journal Says

The Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled in July that there were no violations of campaign finance laws by Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign and conservative groups in 2011 and 2012 recall elections. Emails tied to the campaign finance investigation that the court quashed keep emerging, and a Wall Street Journal editorial trumpeted some of them this week. The editorial is available by Google searching.

“Today’s installment from court documents concerns how a special prosecutor and regulators at the Government Accountability Board (GAB) targeted the state’s conservative Supreme Court justices,” the editorial says. “The partisan goal was to force some justices to recuse themselves from hearing a constitutional challenge to their probe of Governor Scott Walker and his political allies.” Eventually, no justices recused themselves (see Gavel Grab for background).

The editorial quotes Special Prosecutor Francis Schmitz as defending his actions: “‘Looking for information on the justices wasn’t the purpose of the subpoenas but the fact that we had the information doesn’t mean we couldn’t use it.’ He added that he sought the recusal of the conservatives not because of their judicial views but because of ‘the spending on their election campaigns.'”

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Recusal, Public Financing Proposals Aired in Washington

washington_flag_mapReform proposals affecting impartial justice in Washington state include calls for more restrictive judicial recusal rules and for public financing of state Supreme Court justice elections.

In the wake of two high-profile Supreme Court rulings that have favored teachers unions, state Rep. Matt Manweller, a Republican, submitted paperwork this week for a recusal initiative. Under it, according to Crosscut, a Supreme Court justice would have to step aside from a case if a litigant has given $1,000 or more to his or her election campaign in the past six years.

For background about increasing scrutiny paid to judicial campaign donors in Washington, see Gavel Grab. This week, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “”We have an elected judiciary whose job is to decide constitutional questions fairly and impartially.” Read more

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Judicial Recusal Debate Still Alive in Wisconsin

Wisconsin_flag_mapA controversy over a decision by two Wisconsin Supreme Court justices, who chose not to recuse themselves from participating in a ruling that ended a campaign finance investigation, has not gone away.

Regular Gavel Grab readers will be familiar with the controversy. Now Wisconsin Law Journal has published side-by-side, opposing opinions distributed by Dolan Media Newswires.

Brendan Fischer, general counsel for the Center for Media and Democracy, wrote an opinion headlined, “PRO: Recusal was only way to go in John Doe.” He based his views on the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Caperton v. Massey and on his view that the John Doe case went further because “the [Wisconsin] justices rewrote the rules to greenlight campaign coordination – not only for gubernatorial candidates like Scott Walker, but also for their own campaigns.” Read more

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Opinion: Fair State Courts Would Benefit Voting Rights Advocates

In a commentary discussing litigation in North Carolina courts to defend voting rights, Billy Corriher of the Center for American Progress says advocates wanting a fair hearing in state courts ought to push for judicial selection reform.

“The same partisan interests with a stake in voter suppression are funding the campaigns of the judges who will approve their agendas,” Corriher warns. “Americans in states with elected judges must demand that state supreme court justices implement ethics rules that would keep them from hearing cases involving their campaign contributors.”

By adopting an appointment system for choosing judges, states “would certainly keep partisan cash from dominating the judiciary,” he adds. Read more

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Commentary: Prosser Off Base in Declining to Recuse

justice-scalesWisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser relied on weak legal arguments when he declined to recuse himself from a court opinion that shut down a controversial campaign finance investigation, Matt Rothschild of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign writes at

Prosser recently issued a 15-page explanation of why he declined to recuse (see Gavel Grab). A special prosecutor had asked him and another justice to do so, pointing to spending by several groups involved in the investigation that benefitted the campaigns of Prosser and the second justice.

Rothschild disputes specific legal points cited by Prosser but also looks at the case through the lens of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling about runaway judicial election spending, called Caperton v. Massey: Read more

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Editorial: Weeks Later, Wisconsin Court Recusal Issue Remains

Wisconsin_flag_mapA lengthy Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel editorial, in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision ending a campaign finance investigation (see Gavel Grab), called the court “polarized and dysfunctional” and said a conflict-of-interest issue involving some of its members has not gone away.

Among the important questions remaining, the editorial said, is the following: “Should two of the justices whose campaigns received heavy support from the groups under investigation and involved as litigants before the court have heard the cases?” It said a special prosecutor asked for recusal by Justices Michael Gableman and David Prosser, and they did not step aside from hearing the case.

The editorial urged Gov. Scott Walker to “to show good faith, be true to his past words in support of transparency regarding campaign contributions, and initiate bipartisan action to resolve these questions.” Read more

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Probate Judge Defends Chief Justice Moore, Urges Defiant Vote

alabama-flag-descriptionAn Alabama probate judge is urging the state’s highest court to defy the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality ruling and for Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore, who has recused himself, to cast a vote.

Washington County Probate Judge Nick Williams also staunchly defended Moore against an ethics complaint recently lodged by the Southern Poverty Law Center (see Gavel Grab for background), saying the complaint appeared aimed at influencing the Alabama justices and that it should not have been made public, according to an article.

Moore has argued publicly against marriage for same-sex couples and in February, he ordered Alabama probate judges to ignore a federal court ruling that had declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. He has attracted widespread national media attention for his outspoken views. Read more

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