Fair Courts E-lert: ACS Brief Highlights Role of State Courts in Protecting Right to Vote; AL Judge Questions Marriage Ruling

August 7, 2015

RECENT RESEARCH

ACS Brief: States Have Important Role in Protecting Right to Vote

Joshua A. Douglas, a professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law, outlines the important role states can play in protecting voting rights in a recent issue brief for the American Constitution Society, published on the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. While the U.S. Constitution “merely implies” the right to vote, state constitutions “explicitly grant the right to vote, saying that citizens ‘shall be entitled to vote’ or are ‘qualified electors.’ These provisions go substantively further than the U.S. Constitution because they specifically confer voting rights.” Douglas notes that these state protections are particularly important “in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decisions curtailing” voting rights. “A renewed, independent focus on state constitutions and their explicit grant of the right to vote would restore the importance of the most foundational right in our democracy,” writes Douglas. “It would pay homage to the lofty goals of the Voting Rights Act. And it would ensure that, fifty years from now, we can look back and say that we are even closer to protecting the individual right to vote as robustly as possible.”

SUPREME COURT

Alabama Judge Urges State Supreme Court to Challenge SCOTUS Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Alabama Probate Judge Nick Williams filed a brief before the state supreme court, “urging [it] to issue a ‘landmark’ ruling challenging the U.S. Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage,” writes Kent Faulk for AL.com. In his brief, Judge Williams “urges Alabama justices to lead the charge for traditional marriage, and takes a swipe at the five-member majority on the U.S. Supreme Court that legalized gay marriage as lawyers who were elevated to roles as ‘semi-absolute rulers.’” Additionally, Judge Williams “defends Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore against complaints by the Southern Poverty Law Center to the Alabama's Judicial Inquiry Commission [sic] that Moore has violated judicial ethics by publicly suggesting that the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage should not be followed.” Judge Williams believes the organization violated judicial ethics by publishing its complaints, which he argues should be private. According to Faulk, Southern Poverty Law Center president Richard Cohen said that “[t]he public needs to be made aware of complaints against the state supreme court justice because the judicial commission can't talk about it.”

TRANSPARENCY

Groups Say Nominating Process for Workers Compensation Judges Lacks Transparency

“Attorneys and labor groups say the process for selecting new workers compensation judges lacks transparency and stacks the deck against workers,” writes Bryan Lowry of The Wichita Eagle. “The issue was raised when a state nominating committee decided to close interviews with candidates for an administrative law judge position [that hears workers compensation cases].”  Eric Stafford, chair of the committee, responded that they had, “sought guidance from the Kansas Attorney General’s Office and argued that [the committee] is allowed to hold interviews in private as long as its votes remain public.” However, the attorney general’s office clarified that it had not specifically authorized the committee’s practice of conducting interviews in private. Bruce Tunnell, executive director of the Kansas state branch of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), was the only member of the nominating committee to vote against the private meeting. Tunnell claims “[t]he whole [process is] stacked up for business. And they want someone who’s going to represent their best interests.”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION 

Virginia Governor Frustrated Over State Supreme Court Appointment

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe criticized GOP leaders from the state legislature after they announced their plan to support Court of Appeals Judge Rossie D. Alston Jr. for the position of Virginia Supreme Court justice over Justice Jane Marum Roush, who the governor had recently appointed. Justice Roush was appointed during a recess, and, in order for her appointment to be permanent, she must be certified by the legislature. GOP leaders plan to replace her with Judge Alston when they reconvene for a special session on August 17. In their statement, according to Jim Nolan of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Republican leaders “maintained that Alston’s qualifications, not politics,” were taken into account when considering replacing Justice Roush in the special session. Gov. McAuliffe defended Justice Roush, saying, “[i]t’s unfortunate, because this woman is highly qualified.” “The GOP plan to reject McAuliffe’s pick was yet another sign of the escalating, election-year tension between the Republican-run legislative and Democrat-led executive branches,” writes Nolan.