Fair Courts E-lert: Justice Gorsuch Joins SCOTUS; Bill to Reduce NC Court of Appeals Before Governor

April 14, 2017

SUPREME COURT

Justice Neil Gorsuch Confirmed to SCOTUS

On Monday, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 113th U.S. Supreme Court Justice, writes Julie Hirschfeld Davis for The New York Times. “After Democrats waged a filibuster against him, making it impossible to reach the 60 votes required to advance his nomination to a final vote, Republicans invoked the so-called nuclear option, lowering the threshold on Supreme Court nominations to a simple majority vote.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, for whom Justice Gorsuch previously served as a clerk, presided over the swearing-in, which Davis says was “symbolic personally for Justice Gorsuch” and “a reminder that Justice Gorsuch’s ascendance may not be this president’s final chance to influence the direction of the high court.” In his remarks, Justice Gorsuch thanked “the many White House and Justice Department officials who ‘worked through so many late nights and long weeks’ to get him confirmed” and promised to “do all [his] powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great nation.”


STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

NC Bill to Reduce Court of Appeals Passes Legislature

A bill reducing the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 members to 12 members has passed the state legislature and is now before Gov. Roy Cooper (D), writes Craig Jarvis for The News & Observer. Jarvis explains that, “[u]nder the proposal, the next three judges who retire would not be replaced, preserving a Republican majority on the court.” The bill “would also send some cases directly to the state Supreme Court...to redistribute the workload.” According to Jarvis, “Republicans said the bill would realign judges’ workload” and “Democrats said the real intention is to deprive the Democratic governor of replacing judges who are approaching mandatory retirement age.” Sadie Weiner, the governor’s communications director, said in a statement that the effort “should be called out for exactly what it is — their latest power-grab, aimed at exerting partisan influence over the judicial branch and laying the groundwork for future court-packing.” Republicans claim that reducing the court makes sense because “the appeals court’s cases have decreased.” However, Jarvis notes that according to House Democratic leader Darren Jackson (D-Knightdale) “no formal workload analysis had been done.”

Federal Judge Denies Motion to Dismiss Case Challenging TX’s Judicial Elections

A federal judge denied a motion by the state of Texas to dismiss a case challenging its method for selecting state highest court judges, writes Guillermo Contreras for The San Antonio Express-News. U.S. District Court Judge Nelva Ramos ruled that “all the plaintiffs have standing to bring the suit under the Voting Rights Act.” According to Contreras, the plaintiffs argue “that Latino candidates almost always lose statewide elections for judges to the two highest courts in Texas” and that “if the election process were changed from statewide to voting by districts, two districts could be created with a majority of voting-age Latino voters, increasing the likelihood that Latino voters could...have the chance to elect candidates of their choice to the courts.” Contreras explains that although “Latinos make up 26.5 percent of the state’s voting-age population,” only seven of the 125 jurists who have served on the state’s two highest courts since 1945 have been Latino. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jose Garza commented that “[i]t is time for these two courts to move into the 21st century and fully reflect the diversity of our state.”


JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

HI Legislature Debates Bill to Reduce Judicial Pensions

After heated debate, the Hawaii House of Representatives passed a bill that would diminish the pensions of state judges, writes Chad Blair for the Honolulu Civil Beat. Blair notes that the bill passed in spite of “receiv[ing] no testimony in support as it made its way through the legislative process.” Republicans in the House opposed the bill, noting the lack of testimony in support, as well as some Democrats. Sharon Har (D-District 42), voiced her opposition, saying “‘it’s highly unusual’ for employees of a single branch of state government to be singled out for a pension cut, rather than one that also includes the legislative and executive branches.” Jeannette Castagnetti, president of the Hawaii State Trial Judge Association, said she thinks the bill “erodes the public trust in government and diminishes the role of the courts in our democracy.” She noted that Alexander Hamilton wrote that “next to the permanency in office, nothing can contribute more to the independence of judges than a fixed provision for their support.” The bill now goes to a conference committee in which it will be discussed by the two chambers.