Fair Courts E-lert: How a Trump Presidency Could Impact SCOTUS; NC Legislature May Add Judgeships to High Court

November 18, 2016

SUPREME COURT

What Does Trump Presidency Mean for U.S. Supreme Court?

After Donald Trump’s victory on Nov. 8, the president-elect will likely have an enormous impact on the U.S. Supreme Court’s makeup and future rulings, writes Robert Barnes for The Washington Post. According to Barnes, Trump’s election will “dismantle[] Democratic hopes for a liberal majority on the high court for the first time in nearly a half-century” and “likely changes the court’s docket.” Trump has said his nominee for the current vacancy on the Supreme Court will “be like Scalia in seeking to overturn Roe and be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment.” Looking beyond the current vacancy, Barnes said “[a]ll eyes will now be on the court’s oldest members, Kennedy and Ginsburg,” who are both more than 80 years-old, and Justice Steven Breyer, who is 78. These three are part of the five-judge voting bloc that has struck down restrictions on access to abortions, affirmed gay rights, and affirmed the “limited use of race in college admissions decisions.” Speaking about the Supreme Court’s docket, Barnes says “challenges to President Obama’s regulations regarding the Affordable Care Act and immigration, which have preoccupied the justices in recent terms, will likely disappear under a President Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

NC Legislature May Add Judgeships to Preserve Conservative Majority on the High Court

Last week, Michael Morgan was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court, giving liberals on the court a majority. According to the Editorial Board of The News & Observer, speculation has grown that “the legislature may...also increase membership on the state Supreme Court to a chief justice and eight associate justices.” The authors write that this would “boost [the Supreme Court by] two, who would be appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory, and he would naturally follow the wishes of lawmakers to name very conservative Republican judges to the posts,” thus shifting the balance of the court back to one of conservative control. When asked about this speculation, State Senate leader Phil Berger’s office said “it does not comment on rumors.” The Editorial Board writes that “[p]acking the court to offset the effect of an election would be an abuse of the legislative process” and they “hope the legal community quickly stands against any manipulation of the high court.”

All Kansas Supreme Court Justices Retained

All five justices on the Kansas Supreme Court were retained on Election Day, despite a high-spending effort to oust four of those judges, writes Jonathan Shorman for the Topeka Capital-Journal. According to Shorman, “[E]stimates placed combined spending in the retention races at more than $1 million. But the true scope of the battle was obscured because the retention elections fell outside the state’s campaign finance law — allowing groups and individuals to donate in secret.” In a statement early on Wednesday, Chief Justice Lawton Nuss said the justices “want to thank the voters of Kansas whose support today shows that our state values the need to maintain fair and impartial courts.” Nuss and four other justices faced an attempted ouster over the court’s previous decisions. According to Shorman “Kansans for Justice hammered the justices for their decision in a Wichita-area death penalty case, while Kansans for Life drew attention to an impending ruling on abortion rights.” He reports that the attempted ouster was also “driven by in part by anger among some conservative Republican lawmakers” over school finance decisions. On the other side, Kansans for Fair Courts, who supported the justices’ retention, “warned against a ‘power grab’ on the court by Gov. Sam Brownback.”

DIVERSITY

Newest Appointments to GA Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Lack Diversity

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal has faced criticism over the lack of diversity amongst his recent appointments to the Georgia Supreme Court and Georgia Court of Appeals, writes Katheryn Hayes Tucker for the Daily Report. Of the governor’s five selections, “four of them [are] men and all of them [are] white.” Suzanne Ockleberry, co-convenor of Advocacy for Action, called the appointments “a missed opportunity.” Ockleberry said her criticism was “not a commentary on the quality of the individuals that he’s chosen,” but pointed out that “there are talented, diverse attorneys and judges who applied and were overlooked.” Governor Deal responded that the criticism doesn’t give him “credit for diverse appointments he has already made” and asked: “Is racial diversity more important than excellence?” Ockleberry said she wasn’t “sure where people get [the] notion” that “diverse and qualified are mutually exclusive.” Retired Georgia Supreme Court Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears said that “[f]or a state as diverse as Georgia...to continue to have opportunities like this to continue the ethnic diversification of the court, and not take them is just not good for the institution.” She said it “doesn't engender public confidence in our courts” and worries it could “discourage diverse candidates to apply in the future.”