Gavel Grab

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Competing Opinions Highlight Importance of Wisconsin Question 1

Two opposing viewpoints find their way to the opinion pages today regarding Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment to change the way the chief justice of the Supreme Court is selected (see Gavel Grab).

Justice at Stake executive director Bert Brandenburg’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel op-ed lays out reasons Wisconsinites should vote no on Question 1, highlighting the partisan nature that he feels is already hurting the courts.

“Its reputation has suffered as a result of a series of fiercely partisan and cash-soaked judicial elections; there is no need to inject a dose of raw politics into the day-to-day management of court business as well. The people of Wisconsin would suffer.”

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Wisconsin Ballot Item Concerns of JAS, Others Get News Media Airing

Screen Shot 2015-03-24 at 10.41.23 AMAfter groups including Justice at Stake announced opposition to a proposed constitutional amendment changing the way the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected (see Gavel Grab), the issue captured a higher profile in state news media.

JAS Executive Director Bert Brandenburg criticized the proposal as “100 percent politics” and said Republican legislators were attempting to “bend the rules” by handling Wisconsin courts “like their own political playground,” according to a article.

“Their actions are about a partisan power grab that is aimed at one person in this state,” said former Democratic Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager. She was referring to Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, who could be demoted if the proposed constitutional amendment is approved by voters on April 7. Read more

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JAS on Wisconsin Referendum: ‘Pure Political Hardball’

630px-Seal_of_WisconsinAs several groups declared on Monday their opposition to a referendum to change how the Wisconsin Chief Justice is selected, Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg condemned the proposal as “pure political hardball.”

The groups spoke at a news conference in Madison that drew coverage from a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel blog. “The voters of Wisconsin should be able to keep power to chose the chief justice, not a handful of judges,” said Mike Wilder of Wisconsin Voices.

The April 7 referendum is called Question 1. It asks voters to decide whether to change the state constitution to allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice. Critics have framed the proposal as a means to demote Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson, widely considered as a member of the court’s more liberal minority. The referendum is a result of action by the Republican-controlled legislature. Read more

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Commentary Urges ‘No’ Vote in Wisconsin Referendum

Wisconsin voters are starting to see advocacy about an April referendum on how the state’s Chief Justice is chosen. At Wisconsin Election Watch, Ann Jacobs of the Wisconsin Association of Justice urges a “no” vote on a proposed constitutional amendment.

Jacobs says the measure appears aimed at demoting Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson by changing the way the Chief Justice is selected. “Let your voice be heard that our Constitution should not be tinkered with for political gain,” she writes.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the court’s justices to choose the Chief Justice, rather than conferring the job on the most senior justice.

When Wisconsin’s legislature approved the amendment, Justice at Stake said, “Changing how courts govern themselves ought to be done carefully and with broad support.  Instead, a group of partisan politicians is focused on scrapping a 125-year old tradition as payback to get at one justice chosen by the voters of Wisconsin.   People want courts to be above politics, not hostage to it.”

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Ballot Measure for Greater Judicial Selection Disclosure Passes

On Election Day, voters in Hawaii approved a constitutional amendment for greater disclosure in the judicial selection process. It will require Hawaii’s judicial selection commission to disclose the names of candidates recommended to the governor or chief justice (for District Court posts) for judgeships, according to a Gavel to Gavel report on ballot measures that passed.

In Alabama, voters passed a ballot measure to ban state courts from using foreign or international law, according to Gavel to Gavel. A Volokh Conspiracy blog post has a lengthy discussion of the measure. At Slate, Mark Joseph Stern opines, “Even Crazier in Alabama: Voters just passed a constitutional amendment that would overrule the Supreme Court.” Read more

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TN Voters Pass Amendment 2, Floridians Reject Amendment 3

TennesseeTennessee voters have approved Amendment 2, to write into the state constitution an appointive-and-retention election system for choosing appellate judges, along with a new requirement for legislative confirmation of the governor’s picks.

“Tuesday’s vote resolves some of the constitutional issues that have fueled harsh debate for years, yet more work is needed to protect Tennessee’s courts from political attacks,” Justice at Stake Executive Director Bert Brandenburg said in a statement.

“Tennesseans would benefit from a strong, nonpartisan judicial nominating commission that’s transparent and represents the diversity of the state,” he added. “Such a system was a hallmark of the Tennessee Plan and served to keep courts fair and impartial, something the voters in Tennessee clearly want.” You can learn more about the debate over Amendment 2 from Gavel Grab. Read more

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Ex-Attorney General Gonzales: Vote Yes on Amendment 2



Former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William Koch are jointly urging a “yes” vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to change the way Tennessee’s appellate judges are chosen.

“Passing Amendment 2 will bring clarity and certainty to the way we choose the 29 appellate court judges, including the five Supreme Court justices who serve statewide in Tennessee,” they wrote in a Tennessean op-ed.

“But if we fail to pass Amendment 2, it will likely open up these judges to partisan statewide elections that will seriously undermine the integrity, impartiality and independence of our appellate courts.” Gonzales is dean of the Belmont University College of Law in Nashville. Read more

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More Commentary Seeks Rejection of Amendment 3 in Florida

Published opinion in Florida continues to pound away at a proposed constitutional amendment to allow an outgoing governor certain prospective appointments of judges.

“Floridians must reject the Legislature’s proposal to strip the power to appoint judges from the newly elected governor and give that power to an unaccountable lame-duck governor,” Howard L. Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, writes in a Tallahassee Democrat op-ed.

An Ocala Star Banner editorial says, “The constitution is clear about when appointments should occur and who should make them,” and it urges voters to reject Amendment 3 on Election Day. To learn more about the debate over Amendment 3, see Gavel Grab.

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Editorial: No on Amendment 3


Floridians should vote no on Amendment 3, according to an editorial by the Sun Sentinel. (For background on the proposed constitutional amendment regarding judicial appointments, see Gavel Grab.)

The editorial bases its opinion on the 2006 state Supreme Court advisory opinion and the powers of the court’s chief justice. The opinion stated that the appointment power is clearly with the incoming governor. The chief justice also has the power to fill vacancies with other judges for a short period of time.

The three justices who would be affected by the amendment were opposed in the last election cycle by the Republican Party, which controls the executive and legislative branches in Florida. The editorial concludes by calling Amendment 3 the “latest politically motivated attempt to manipulate the state’s courts…”

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Commentary: Yes on Amendment 2


Amendment 2 “will establish a system for selecting judges that ensures that our appellate court judge or a Supreme Court justice will be independent, highly qualified and unbiased,” says Verna Wyatt, executive director of Tennessee Voices for Victims, in a commentary in The Daily Herald. (See Gavel Grab for background on Amendment 2.)

The amendment will reflect the federal judicial appointment system with both the executive and legislative branches having a hand in the process, but also include a retention election. According to the commentary, this creates a balance of a fair and independent judiciary that still remains accountable to the people.

Judges should be “held accountable to the people of Tennessee, not the best politicians who can raise the most money from special-interest groups,” the commentary says, “We don’t want our judges to be pressured to make rulings based on campaign contributions or politics.”


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