Fair Courts E-lert: Pres. Trump to Choose SCOTUS Nominee; Bills Filed to Alter HI Judicial Selection

January 27, 2017

SUPREME COURT

President Trump to Announce SCOTUS Nominee Next Week

President Donald Trump said on Twitter that he will announce his nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court next Thursday, Feb. 2, write Lawrence Hurley, Susan Heavey, Doina Chiacu, and Richard Cowan for Reuters. The authors write that “[t]he current front-runners include three conservative jurists who were appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush: Neil Gorsuch,...Thomas Hardiman,...and William Pryor,” all of whom currently sit on federal appellate courts. While the nomination follows swiftly after the President’s inauguration, the authors write that “Democrats could try to block the nomination using procedural hurdles.” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) “warned that his party would not allow Trump’s nominee to languish.” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer noted that the President listed about 20 candidates for the Supreme Court during his campaign, and said that“[i]f not selected for the nation’s top court, some nominees could be contenders for the more than 100 vacancies on lower federal courts.”


JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

Opinion: Spending by Outside Groups Threatens Judicial Impartiality

In an op-ed appearing in The American Prospect, authors Dorothy Samuels and Alicia Bannon from the Brennan Center discuss record special interest spending in state supreme court elections, which threatens “an erosion of the impartiality of the nation’s courts.” The authors explain that outside groups spent heavily in 2015-16, with “[s]pecial-interest groups [spending] nearly 50 percent more on TV ads in contests for powerful state supreme court seats than they had in the previous presidential election cycle.” Furthermore, “19 states have seen at least one million-dollar-plus contest for their state’s top court” since 2004, and “[i]n 11 of those 19 jurisdictions, more than half the judges on the state supreme court bench are survivors of these big money brawls.” This, the authors write, “leaves a heavy cloud hanging over the integrity and fairness of much of the nation’s state court system.” At the same time, a lack of transparency about the contributors to these groups “denies voters information they should have, potentially skewing outcomes” and “can make it hard, if not impossible, to identify judicial conflicts, much less avoid them.” They conclude that “[r]escuing [the ideal of fair and impartial courts] from the rising sea of secret special-interest money is urgent business.”

Bills Introduced to Allow State Legislatures to Overrule Court Decisions

Bills introduced in Florida and Washington would give state legislatures the ability to override certain state court rulings, writes Erica Orden for the Wall Street Journal. Orden writes that the proposed bills “would permit legislatures in those states to vote to ‘reject the determination of the court,’ as the bill in Washington puts it, following rulings that declare a legislative act unconstitutional.” These bills require different thresholds to override a ruling. “In Florida, the proposal would require a two-thirds vote of each house within five years of a court ruling,” whereas “[i]n Washington, a simple majority would suffice.” Representative Julio Gonzalez (R-District 74), who introduced the Florida bill, cited “overly active judiciary advocacy” as a motivation for the bill, saying he believes “that there’s a loophole that has not been closed in our checks and balances.” Representative John Koster (R-39th District), who sponsored the Washington bill, explained that he was “motivated by a tort case on education funding that he believed prompted the court to overstep its authority.” Randolph McLaughlin, a professor at Pace Law School, said that the proposals set a “dangerous precedent and [take] us down a route that constitutionally would be disastrous.”

Bills Introduced to Alter Hawaii’s Judicial Selection System

Legislators in Hawaii have proposed multiple bills to alter the state’s judicial selection system, writes Ian Lind for the Honolulu Civil Beat. According to Lind, the bills “would transfer decisions regarding the reappointment of state judges and justices to the Senate from Hawaii’s independent Judicial Selection Commission.” Lind writes that “[i]t looks a lot like a replay of controversial legislative moves made last year” which were “widely seen as political retaliation for court rulings that required the Legislature to provide sufficient funds for administration of the Department of Hawaiian Home Lands, as provided by the state constitution.” Opponents to previous efforts to change Hawaii’s system have maintained that the state’s “existing judicial selection process is considered the ‘gold standard’ for keeping the courts free of direct political interference, and is seen as a model by other jurisdictions.” Lind concludes that “[i]t remains to be seen whether there will be a serious push to pass HB 1 and other anti-judiciary bills this year.”