Fair Courts E-Lert: House Judiciary Committee Approves Three Judicial Reform Bills; Christine Blasey Ford Accuses Brett Kavanaugh of Sexual Misconduct
September 21, 2018
House Judiciary Committee Approves Three Federal Judicial Reform Bills
Last week, the House Judiciary Committee reported favorably three bills that would make significant changes to federal courts’ structure, capacity, and authority.
H.R. 6755, the Judiciary ROOM Act, was introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA). The bill would add 52 new permanent district court judgeships, require the Judicial Conference to issue a code of conduct for Supreme Court justices, require physical exams for judges and justices, require broadcast access to court proceedings, and require the Supreme Court to make publicly available notices of recusal “along with an explanation for such recusal.”
H.R. 6754, the CIRCUIT Act, was also introduced by Rep. Issa. The bill would restructure the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals into three regions – and follows President Trump’s repeated critique of the 9th Circuit. According to the ABA Journal, the Circuit Act “resurrects legislation proposed in 1998 by the congressionally created White Commission.”
H.R. 6730, The Injunctive Authority Clarification Act of 2018, introduced by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), would ban nationwide injunctions like those issued by individual district courts early in Trump’s presidency blocking implementation of the Travel Ban. The Wall Street Journal claims that these injunctions have “repeatedly stymied President Trump’s agenda,” and last week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued new guidance instructing federal attorneys to push back against nationwide injunctions.
SUPREME COURT NOMINATION
Christine Blasey Ford Accuses Brett Kavanaugh of Sexual Misconduct; Committee Vote Postponed
On Sunday, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a California professor and psychologist, publicly accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her when they were high school students. Earlier this summer, Dr. Blasey made these allegations in a confidential letter to members of Congress. Kavanaugh has denied Dr. Blasey’s accusation, responding, “I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation. I did not do this back in high school or at any time.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee vote to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination, initially scheduled for Thursday, was formally postponed. Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) announced that Kavanaugh would testify before the Judiciary Committee Monday, and invited Ford to testify.
Dr. Blasey’s attorneys requested an FBI investigation take place before she testify. Noting that she has been targeted by “vicious harassment and even death threats” since publicly coming forward and has forced to leave her home, her attorneys wrote to Grassley, a “full investigation by law enforcement officials will ensure that the crucial facts and witnesses in this matter are assessed in a non-partisan manner, and that the committee is fully informed before conducting any hearings or making any decisions.”
Yesterday, Dr. Blasey’s lawyer proposed next Thursday as a hearing date, noting, “She wishes to testify, provided that we can agree on terms that are fair and which ensure her safety. A hearing on Monday is not possible,” and added, “Her strong preference continues to be for the Senate Judiciary Committee to allow for a full investigation prior to her testimony.”
Florida Gov. Rick Scott Begins Selection Process to Replace 3 Retiring Florida Supreme Court Justices
Last week, Florida Governor Rick Scott began the process of replacing three retiring Florida Supreme Court Justices, asking the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications and interviewing candidates.
Justices Pariente, Lewis and Quince, who have “often [been] part of a majority that has ruled against Scott and the Republican-controlled Legislature in recent years,” must leave the court in January after reaching the state’s mandatory retirement age. But Gov. Scott must also leave his office the same day due to term limits, sparking a legal debate about whether Scott or his successor has the authority to appoint the new justices.
Last year, after Scott said he planned to appoint the justices, the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause filed a petition arguing only Scott’s successor has the power to appoint the justices. At that time, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that issue was not ready to be decided since Scott had not taken any steps to fill the vacancies.
Scott has said he will allow the incoming governor to interview the finalists, with the hope of agreeing on appointments – but, as The Orlando Sentinel explains, the likelihood of an agreement “could hinge heavily on the outcome of the Nov. 6 gubernatorial election between Democrat Andrew Gillum and Republican Ron DeSantis.”
Federal Court Rejects Challenge to Texas’ Statewide Judicial Elections
Last week, a federal judge ruled against the plaintiffs in a Voting Rights Act lawsuit brought by Hispanic voters, which alleged Texas’ system for electing judges to the state’s two high courts in statewide elections “dilutes the voting strength of Latino citizens and prevents them from electing their candidates of choice.”
Texas’ highest courts do not reflect the demographics of the Texas citizenry – all but two justices on the Texas Supreme Court and Texas Court of Criminal Appeals are white. The lawsuit brought by La Union Del Pueblo Entero (LUPE) and seven Latino Texans argued that the state’s at-large voting system, renders Latino voters “ineffective electoral minorities in most every election for both courts.” The plaintiffs proposed creating “at least two single-member districts in the Hispanic-heavy regions of South and West Texas.”
But Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas concluded that “partisanship is a better explanation for defeats of Hispanic-preferred candidates than racial vote dilution.” Gonzales Ramos pointed to the example of Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman, a Latina Republican who received more votes in 2016 than any candidate for statewide judicial office in Texas history – but did not win the Latino vote, which went to the Democratic candidate.