Fair Courts E-lert: ABA Gives SCOTUS Nominee "Well Qualified" Rating; NV Specialty Courts to Expand

June 24, 2016

SUPREME COURT

ABA Gives Merrick Garland “Well Qualified” Rating

On Tuesday, the American Bar Association (ABA) announced it had given U.S. Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland a rating of “well qualified,” the organization’s highest rating, writes Nolan D. McCaskill for Politico. The ABA reviewed his legal writings and “conducted interviews with dozens of Garland’s peers” to decide the rating. Karol Corbin Walker, who chairs the ABA’s Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary, said the evaluation is based “solely on its comprehensive, nonpartisan, non-ideological peer review of the nominee’s integrity, professional competence, and judicial temperament,” according to Politico. Walker also commented on Judge Garland’s “exceptional intellect, industry, and superior work ethic.” White House counsel Neil Eggleston said the ABA “‘joins a multitude of distinguished voices from across the political spectrum’ who have approved of Garland’s qualifications to sit on the high court.” However, David Popp, communications director for Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) highlighted that “[w]hen the ABA gave Justice Alito their highest rating—unanimously—then-Sens. Obama and Biden both turned around and joined a filibuster to block his nomination.”

JUDICIAL VACANCIES

Progress Made Towards Appointment of Idaho Federal Judge

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee “signaled strong backing” for the appointment of Judge David Nye for an Idaho federal judgeship, writes Rob Hotakainen for the Idaho Statesman. Hotakainen says Judge Nye is a “consensus pick of President Barack Obama and the state’s senators, Republicans Mike Crapo and Jim Risch.” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the Judge Nye “represent[s] something I’ve never seen before: a person that can get Crapo, Risch and Obama on the same sheet of music.” Risch said Idaho was in “a unique situation” because it has been “operating with only one full-time federal judge since last July.” Therefore, both Idaho senators “urged the Judiciary Committee to move quickly to confirm Nye as a way to help ease Idaho’s judicial emergency,” despite the fact that they “back their party leaders in wanting to wait to fill the Supreme Court vacancy until Obama leaves office.” In a statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) reminded the committee that “[i]t has been 97 days since Chief Judge Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court of the United States, yet Republicans refuse to allow him a hearing before this committee.”

COURT FUNDING

NV Specialty Courts to Expand with Additional Funding

The Nevada Legislature recently expanded specialty court services and increased funding for these courts, explains a press release from the Supreme Court of Nevada. The legislation, which was “signed into law June 11 by Governor Brain Sandoval” will benefit specialty courts and diversion programs such as “drug, mental health, DUI, veterans’ and other problem-solving courts.” The legislature “earmarked $3 million per year for each year of the biennium from the state general fund to provide specialty court services to an additional 800-900 participants. In addition, the legislature allocated $1.4 million to restore specialty court funding to FY 2015 levels,” according to the press release. “The additional money will create opportunities in the rural courts that have not existed before,” said Chief Justice James Hardesty. Justice Michael Douglas, who is the chairman of the Specialty Court Funding Committee, added: “With this additional funding, I believe our legislators understand it is better to give people an opportunity to improve their condition – whether it be from drugs, alcohol, or mental health – rather than place them in jails and increase the burden on taxpayers for funding incarceration.”

JUDICIAL RECUSAL

SCOTUS Denies Cert in Philip Morris Appeal

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for certiorari by plaintiffs in a long-term class-action suit against cigarette company Philip Morris, writes the Associated Press. The AP explains that in the lawsuit “hundreds of thousands of Illinois smokers” accused the company of consumer fraud for “deceptively market[ing] ‘light’ and ‘low-tar’ Marlboro cigarettes as a healthier alternative.” The plaintiffs were initially granted a $10.1 billion verdict, which was appealed a number of times before being overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2015. The plaintiffs appealed the state supreme court decision to the U.S. Supreme Court because they believed “Lloyd Karmeier, an elected member of the Illinois Supreme Court, should have stepped aside because he made statements during his 2014 election campaign criticizing the judgment and had received campaign contributions from a group partly funded by Philip Morris,” reported Lawrence Hurley for Reuters.  According to the AP, an attorney for Philip Morris’ parent company Altria Group, Murray Garnick, said: “Today’s action by the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ends this case once and for all.”