Fair Courts E-lert: AL Justice Roy Moore Suspended; ID High Court Candidates Debate Judicial Independence

May 13, 2016

JUDICIAL ETHICS

Justice Roy Moore Suspended for Ordering AL Courts to Deny Marriage Licenses to Same-Sex Couples

Last Friday, Alabama’s Judicial Inquiry Commission filed a formal complaint against Chief Justice Roy Moore for violations of the state’s cannons of judicial ethics over an administrative order released by Justice Moore in January, writes staff at VICE. The complaint resulted in Justice Moore’s immediate suspension and he will now face a hearing to determine whether he should be removed permanently. In the order at issue, Moore “barr[ed] state judges from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, contrary to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges…argu[ing] that the Supreme Court's ruling only applied to the four states involved in the case that was before the court.” The Judicial Inquiry Commission said Justice Moore’s order was “contrary to clear and determined law about which there is no confusion or unsettled question” and that he “flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority.” Justice Moore responded to the suspension, saying “[w]e intend to fight this agenda vigorously and expect to prevail.” Justice Moore was previously removed from the Supreme Court for “defying a federal order and refusing to remove a Ten Commandments monument that he installed in the state judicial building.”

ID Supreme Court Candidates Debate Judicial Independence

Four candidates for the Idaho Supreme Court discussed judicial “independence” and “diversity” during a debate, writes Kimberlee Kruesi for the Associated Press. According to Kruesi, Robyn Brody and Judge Sergio Gutierrez raised concerns about the other candidates’ “high-profile” and “partisan” endorsements. Brody said: “When you stand on the courthouse steps with the Legislature, I’m not sure if you’re sending the right messages to the people of Idaho that there’s a clear division of judiciary and legislative branch.” Judge Gutierrez also highlighted that “he’s not running to be a politician but a justice.” Kruesi writes that the concerns were directed at “fellow candidates Clive Strong, a longtime deputy attorney general, and Curt McKenzie, a seven-term Republican state senator — who have both held press conferences at courthouses announcing endorsements from partisan lawmakers.” In response, Strong and McKenzie both described instances in which they had stood up to the legislature or had refused to vote with the party line. All supreme court candidates are “banned from talking about their past of [sic] current political party affiliations…as well as giving their opinions on how they would vote on previous or pending state supreme court decisions.”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

NC Supreme Court Deadlocks on Retention Elections Challenge

Last Friday, the North Carolina Supreme Court split 3-3 over the constitutionality of using retention elections to select supreme court justices in the state, writes Anne Blythe for The News and Observer. The decision means that “a lower court ruling overturning the 2015 law”—which instituted retention elections—“stands.” Therefore, “[v]oters will go to the polls in June to narrow the four-candidate field to two who will be on the November ballot for the one seat open on the state Supreme Court this year.” One of those candidates is current Justice Robert Edmunds, who recused himself from the case. Another candidate is Sabra Faires, who challenged the law. Michael Crowell, Faires’ attorney, said that “[o]bviously we’re pleased with the final result.” He added that “[w]e need to keep looking for a better way to choose judges, but it is going to require a constitutional amendment. Letting the legislature decide session by session who faces what kind of election is not the answer.” In their decision, the justices wrote that the lower court decision “stands without precedential value,” thus leaving open “the possibility for more hearings on retention elections in the future.”

TN Bar Association Asks Judicial Candidates to Sign Code of Conduct

In anticipation of the August judicial retention elections for seats on Tennessee’s highest court and intermediate appeals court, the Tennessee Bar Association (TBA) is asking candidates to sign a campaign code of conduct, writes Richard Locker for The Tennessean. The code was “a joint effort of the bar association and the Tennessee Supreme Court.” The two groups “revised the Code of Judicial Conduct’s Canon 4 to reflect changes recommended after the 2014 judicial elections that involved an unsuccessful campaign led by Republican state Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey to defeat three Supreme Court justices appointed by former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.” Cannon 4 now “specifies how long a campaign can last (one year), how funds can be raised, and what candidates can say and do while campaigning,” according to Locker. TBA President Bill Harbison stated that “[j]udges are not permitted to make promises or pledges about how they will rule because we expect them to proceed case by case to apply the law to the facts and come to fair and impartial decisions. The code helps to ensure this impartiality by committing the judges not to make pledges, promises or commitments on how they will rule in cases.”