Fair Courts E-lert: Study Finds SCOTUS "Friends" Lack Diversity; AZ High Court Expanded

May 20, 2016


Study Finds SCOTUS “Friends of the Court” Lack Diversity

The Supreme Court uses its power to appoint a lawyer a couple times a year to argue before it as a friend of the court, and a study to be published in The Cornell Law Review finds it bestows the honor disproportionately on white men. In The New York Times, Adam Liptak writes that it is “a sort of patronage system, dominated by white male lawyers, that has received surprisingly little scrutiny.” “The court has this chit to give out,” said Katherine Shaw, a professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and the study’s author. “It can have significant impact on a lawyer’s future career advancement. The court is sort of anointing chosen individuals.” Professor Shaw said the study finds that “gender and race diversity numbers for invited advocates lag behind even the already low overall numbers in Supreme Court advocacy.” “Giving a young lawyer early in their career this opportunity is an affirmative good,” she added, “but I just think there should be a broader pool from which the justices draw when they’re handing it out.”


Arizona Supreme Court Expands from Five to Seven Justices

The Arizona Supreme Court will grow from five justices to seven after Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed legislation Wednesday, reports Yvonne Wingett Sanchez for The Arizona Republic. “Arizonans deserve swift justice from the judicial branch,” said Ducey, in a letter explaining his signing. “Adding more voices will ensure that the court can increase efficiency, hear more cases and issue more opinions.” According to Sanchez, “Ducey’s approval of House Bill 2537 will cost the state an additional $1 million and came despite objections from Chief Justice Scott Bales, who earlier this month asked the Republican governor to veto the legislation.” The Chief Justice wrote that “additional judges are not needed and expansion ‘is not warranted when other court-related needs are underfunded.’” Sanchez notes that Ducey “will have the final say” in appointing the two new justices and that “[s]uch appointments are among a governor’s most important decisions, given jurists’ long tenures and impact on issues ranging from the death penalty to constitutional questions.”


Federal Judge Strikes Down a Portion of a Kentucky Judicial Ethics Canon

A federal judge ruled last week that the Kentucky Judicial Conduct Commission can no longer enforce portions of a state ethics rule that prohibits judges or judicial candidates from campaigning for or against political organizations or issues, reports Kevin Lessmiller for Courthouse News Service. Lessmiller writes that judicial candidate Robert Winter initiated a lawsuit against the conduct commission after it accused him of breaking canons associated with Kentucky’s nonpartisan judicial elections. In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Amul Thapar acknowledged that states may “try to insulate [elected] judges from the often dirty business of partisan politicking,” but emphasized that the First Amendment requires that they “must be surgically precise when they enact what is in fact a speech code.” He added: “It also means that states cannot gag candidates from announcing their views on the important issues of the day. Thus, to the extent that the canons are too vague—or limit what a judge or would-be judge can say about an issue—they violate the First Amendment.”


Supreme Court “Not So Much Deadlocked as Diminished”

The eight-member Supreme Court is “withdrawing from the central role it has played in American life throughout Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s decade on the court,” writes Adam Liptak in The New York Times. Instead of generating 4-4 ties, the court is instead shifting toward a strategy of finding agreement around “modest and ephemeral” decisions. “We’re seeing an even greater push for broad consensus and minimalist rulings, and a majority of the court seems willing to go along with that approach,” said Jonathan H. Adler, a law professor at Case Western Reserve University. “All of us are working hard to reach agreement,” said Justice Elena Kagan during public remarks in April. Liptak notes that the Court has not granted any new cases concerning “issues of broad public interest,” writing that the next term “is thus shaping up to be a thin and quiet one. Until the next justice arrives, the Supreme Court will remain on the sideline of American life.”