Fair Courts E-lert: SCOTUS Rules in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado; Groups Want Harder Line on SCOTUS Nom.

March 10, 2017


Supreme Court Rules in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Peña-Rodriguez v. Colorado, finding that courts can consider evidence challenging the validity of a verdict where “a juror makes a clear statement that indicates he or she relied on racial stereotypes or animus to convict a criminal defendant.” Cristian Farias, writing for Huffington Post, explains that jury deliberations “are largely shielded from court review under the ‘no impeachment’ rule,” which is designed to protect against judges “second-guessing what jurors decide behind closed doors.” However the Court said that a limited exception for racial bias is necessary because it “implicates unique historical, constitutional, and institutional concerns” and “to prevent a systemic loss of confidence in jury verdicts.” Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, was joined by Justice Ginsburg, Justice Breyer, Justice Kagan, and Justice Sotomayor. Justice Thomas authored a dissent, writing “[t]he Constitution does not require such a rule. Neither should we.” Justice Alito also authored a dissent, in which he expressed concerns that the decision could “undermine the finality of jury verdicts,” writing, “[t]oday’s decision — especially if it is expanded in the ways that seem likely — will invite the harms that no-impeachment rules were designed to prevent.”

Progressive Groups Call on Senate Dems for Stronger Opposition to SCOTUS Nominee

Eleven progressive groups sent a letter to Senate Democrats Monday, calling on them to take a harder line on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court, writes Carl Hulse for The New York Times. In the letter, the groups wrote that “Democrats have failed to demonstrate a strong, unified resistance to this nominee despite the fact that he is an ultraconservative jurist who will undermine our basic freedoms and threaten the independence of the federal judiciary,” and “[w]e need you to do better.” Hulse points out that the Democrats are in a difficult position because “[t]hey need to keep their agitated and highly motivated base satisfied while not appearing to dismiss Judge Gorsuch, who has impressed members of both parties during private meetings.” He adds that because the nomination comes so soon after the Inauguration, “the attention of Democrats has been divided.” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said of the groups: “I think they are doing exactly what they should be doing.”


Editorial: IA Judicial Nomination Commission Should Not Be Only Appointed by the Governor

Staff at The Gazette issued an editorial criticizing a bill pending before the Iowa Legislature that would change the composition of the commission used to select state judges. The authors explain that “[t]he state commission now consists of 17 people,” eight of whom are appointed by the Governor’s Office. Senate File 327, they write, would change the selection system so that “all 16 members of the commission would be appointed by the Governor’s Office, and the justice leading the commission would vote only to break ties.” They write that “[t]he last thing Iowans should want to do is introduce more politics and partisanship into the selection of our judges.” They support the current model because “[l]awyers, regardless of their political affiliation, work with judges each day, and offer valuable insights during the interviews of those who hope to sit on the bench,” while “[g]ubernatorial political appointees...often focus on issues unrelated to judicial duties.” They suggest the legislature would be better served “finding ways to encourage more applications for judicial vacancies, or increasing judges’ salaries.”

CA Governor Will Appoint Fourth Justice to State High Court

California Supreme Court Justice Kathryn Werdegar announced her plans to retire from the state high court later this year, writes Christopher Cadelago for The Sacramento Bee. According to Cadelago, Justice Werdegar’s departure, “set for Aug. 31,” will give Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) “another opportunity to shape the state’s highest court.” His nomination of her replacement would be “his fourth opportunity in his second stint as governor to mold the seven-member California Supreme Court, long regarded by legal experts as among the most influential in the nation.” In a statement, Justice Werdegar said: “I have had the privilege of serving with three outstanding Chief Justices and many wonderful colleagues, and the opportunity to address some of the state’s most challenging issues. But, it is time for someone else to have that privilege and opportunity. I wish my colleagues, the governor, and my successor well.”