Fair Courts E-lert: Study Finds Judges Favor Party in Election Cases; Garland Has Record Wait for Hearing

July 22, 2016


New Study Finds Judges Likely to Favor Their Party in Election Cases

Last week, the American Constitution Society released a new study, Partisan Justice, which finds that judges are inclined to rule in favor of members of their own party in deciding election disputes, and that these effects are exacerbated by campaign donations. The report, authored by Emory University School of Law professors Joanna Shepherd and Michael Kang, uses “a new dataset of cases from 2005 to 2014” and finds that “[j]udicial partisanship in election cases increases, and elected judges become more likely to favor their own party, as party campaign-finance contributions increase.” The authors also highlight that “[t]his influence of campaign money largely disappears for lame-duck judges without re-election to worry about.” Although the study is limited to election cases, the authors suggest that “[i]f judges are influenced, consciously or not, by party loyalty in election cases, they are likely tempted to do so in other types of cases as well.” The authors conclude by noting that “reformers have advocated, among other things, public financing of state judicial campaigns; term limits for state judges; and various merit selection, judicial evaluation, and disciplinary systems,” and argue that this study “bolster[s] the case for judicial selection reform.”


Garland Sets Record for Longest Wait for Senate Hearing

On Wednesday, Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland set a new record for “the longest wait for a Senate hearing,” surpassing Louis Brandeis, writes Jon Schuppe for NBC News. The author notes that “[t]he delay has little to do with Garland's record” as “he is seen as a centrist, and few Republicans have argued with his record as chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.” Instead, they “have framed it as a battle against presidential overreach” and said “it should be up to President Obama’s successor to pick a replacement for Justice Antonin Scalia.” In an op-ed in this week’s Wall Street Journal, President Barack Obama wrote that these tactics “reduce the very functioning of the judicial branch of the government to another political leverage point” and that the deadlocks caused by the vacancy leave “the law itself in limbo.”


Study Finds Black Judges are Overruled More Often than White Judges

A study by Maya Sen, an assistant professor at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, has found that black judges are overruled on appeal more often than white judges, reports Shankar Vedantam, who interviewed Sen on NPR. Sen’s study looked at “about a thousand judges on the federal bench who were nominated by presidents ranging from Lyndon Johnson to Barack Obama” and analyzed “how often between the years 2000 and 2012 these judges’ rulings were overturned on appeal by a higher court,” explains Vedantam. According to the study, “if blacks were reversed at whites’ comparably lower reversal rates, some 2,800 cases authored by black judges would have been upheld on appeal” over that time period. The analysis also reveals “the difference between black and white judges in terms of reversal does not vary across more or less conservative higher courts.” Sen notes in her conclusion that the “reasons behind this persistent difference are not straightforward” but that one factor may be “implicit biases on the part of higher courts.”


WA High Court Orders State to Appear in Hearing for School Funding Case

The Washington Supreme Court has ordered the state to appear Sept. 7 to present information to the court as it decides whether to add or remove further sanctions in McCleary v. State, a case challenging the state’s funding of basic education, writes Joseph O’Sullivan for The Seattle Times. The Court previously ruled that the state had failed to provide a complete plan for complying with its school-funding obligations and imposed a sanction of $100,000 per day. According to O’Sullivan, “the justices want to hear the state’s explanation for why its most recent school-funding plan . . . should be considered sufficient.” The lawmakers have already “set up a special task force that will gather data and come up with proposed solutions around teacher pay and levy reform.” Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah) said “he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to share any preliminary numbers” because the “[t]ask-force members will not have an opportunity to vet or agree on any cost estimate” by the time of the hearing. However, Sen. Christine Rolfes (D–Bainbridge Island) said the court’s order is “accelerating the discussion, which is fair.”