Fair Courts E-lert: Senators Disagree over Judicial Nominations; OK Lawmakers Call for Judicial Impeachment

July 10, 2015

JUDICIAL VACANCIES

Senators Disagree over Federal Judicial Nominations

 “The GOP-controlled Senate is on track this year to confirm the fewest judges since 1969, a dramatic escalation of the long-running partisan feud over the ideological makeup of federal courts,” write Burgess Everett and Seung Min Kim in Politico. Some Senate Democrats argue “the GOP is creating an unprecedented expansion of the Thurmond Rule, which holds that the Senate shuts off the confirmation valve of lifetime judicial appointments in July of an election year.” Senior Senate Republicans “insist the GOP is moving along key nominations at a rate comparable with the final two years of previous lame-duck presidents.” During President George W. Bush’s final two years in office, the “Democratic majority confirmed 68 district and circuit court nominees . . . a mark that won’t be matched during [Obama’s] final two years unless [the Majority Leader, Judiciary Chairman, and] Obama reprioritize the federal bench.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) adds, “[r]eally, we’ve got to stop it. Both sides. The problem is it all depends on who’s in power. And then they take advantage, so what goes around comes around. And it’s got to end.”

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

Oklahoma Lawmakers Call for Impeachment over Ten Commandments Ruling

Some conservative Oklahoma lawmakers are calling for the impeachment of several state supreme court justices after they ordered the removal of a Ten Commandments statue from the state Capitol grounds, according to Sean Murphy of the Associated Press. “The outcry immediately followed the court's 7-2 decision… that the 6-foot-tall granite monument, which was privately funded by a Republican legislator, had to be removed because it clearly violated the Oklahoma constitution's ban on using public property to benefit a religion.” Oklahoma Bar Association President David Poarch said, “calling for the impeachment of justices after a ruling doesn't go in your favor is a dangerous precedent . . . . You don't change the law by impeaching people.” This is not the first time lawmakers have called for judicial impeachment. “After a sharply divided Supreme Court last year agreed to temporarily halt an execution while an inmate's case over the source of the lethal injection drugs was pending, a [lawmaker] ordered articles of impeachment be drafted for the five justices who favored the stay. The court lifted its stay two days later and the articles were never granted a hearing.”

SUPREME COURT

Chemerinsky Reacts to SCOTUS Retention Proposal

In a piece for The New Republic, Erwin Chemerinsky reacts to Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) recently proposed plan that would require U.S. Supreme Court judges to face retention elections.  “Although Senator Cruz has the right intention,” writes Chemerinsky, “his proposed solution would endanger the independence of the Court, rather than bolster it. Judicial elections at the state and local level have consistently led to justices inappropriately considering electoral pressures in making decisions, often to the detriment of individual rights—so imagine the reverberations of judicial elections on a national scale.” Chemerinsky proposes 18-year term limits as an alternate reform, arguing that our current life tenure system, which “allows a handful of men and women to hold great power for such an extended period of time is, by nature, more feudal than democratic.” He adds, “[u]nlike judicial elections, making the appointment non-renewable helps ensure that a justice won’t decide cases in a way to help ensure continued service.”

STATE JUDICIAL SELECTION

Pennsylvania County Court Candidates Raise Significant Funds

According to recently filed Pennsylvania campaign finance disclosure reports, the nine candidates who ran for Westmoreland County Common Pleas Court judge in the state’s spring primary spent more than $1.2 million combined on their campaigns, reports Rich Cholodofsky for TribLive. “‘That's a big number (to spend). It has to be related to the number of candidates,’ said John Greiner, former president of the Westmoreland County Bar Association. “Greiner said he could recall no other county judicial race in which that much money was spent for the primary season.” Greiner added, “It makes it more difficult for qualified candidates to run for office because of the amount of money you have to have going in. You have to have deep pockets to compete.”