Fair Courts E-lert: Trump Nominates 10 to Federal Courts; CA's Traffic Fines System has Unequal Impact

May 12, 2017


Trump Announces Ten Nominees for Federal Judgeships

On Monday, President Donald Trump nominated 10 individuals to federal judgeships, including two state supreme court justices, write Joseph P. Williams for U.S. News and World Report Adam Liptak for The New York Times. This is the first of “what could be near monthly waves of nominations” to fill the 120 vacancies on the lower federal courts, according to Liptak. Trump’s list includes Justice Joan Larsen of the Michigan Supreme Court and Justice David Stras of the Minnesota Supreme Court, who were nominated to the Sixth and Eighth Circuits respectively. Williams writes that both were “on the Heritage/Federalist Society list” that “Trump touted during the campaign as proof of his conservative credentials.” Susan Low Bloch, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center stressed that these appellate court judgeships “are incredibly significant in determining the direction of the law.” 


Study Finds CA Traffic Fines System Disproportionately Impacts People of Color

Last week, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights [LCCR] published a report documenting the ways that California’s traffic fines disproportionately affect Blacks and Latinos, writes Tanasia Kenney for the Atlanta Black Star. According to Kenney, Californians who cannot afford to pay traffic fines are subject to “license suspension, arrest, jail time, wage garnishment, towing of their vehicles and even job loss.” The report finds that as a result, “African-American residents are four-to-16 times more likely to be booked into jail on a failure-to-pay-related charge.” The report argues that “[p]unishing people for failure to pay is doubling down on the racial bias in the system,” because, as LCCR legal director Elisa Della-Piana describes, “people of color, especially Black people, are more likely to get pulled over.” California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) previously sought to address the problem with a temporary program that “slashed fines on pre-2013 traffic tickets by 80 percent for poorer applicants and allowed affected drivers to set up payment plans to get their licenses back.” The program, however, expired last month. Earlier this year, State Sen. Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) introduced a bill that would “ban the courts from automatically stripping drivers of their license for failure to pay” and “force judges to consider a resident’s ability to pay before slapping them with hefty fines and fees.”


MN Chief Justice Advocates for Increased Court Funding

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court spoke out last week about the need for increased funding for the judicial branch, after state lawmakers “failed to pass what she calls an urgent request for court funding,” writes Pat Kessler for CBS Minnesota. Chief Justice Gildea told lawmakers that the state courts “are facing some challenges in the judiciary right now that impact our ability to provide timely access to justice for all in Minnesota” and that by failing to adequately fund the courts the legislature is “jeopardizing public safety.” Kessler reports that “Minnesota courts make up about 1.5 percent of the state budget, about $325 million a year.” Without an increase of $50 million, “drug treatment courts might close, court interpreters are at risk, cybersecurity is threatened, and there’ll be no pay hikes for 317 judges and 2,500 court staff,” according to Chief Justice Gildea. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) said that “while he sympathizes with Gildea’s concerns, lawmakers are focused on other projects, such as police training and prohibiting protesting on freeways.”


Trial Concludes In Case Challenging LA Judicial District

Trial recently concluded in a case brought by the Terrebone Parish Chapter of the NAACP, challenging the parish’s at-large system for electing judges, with a ruling expected this summer, writes Dan Copp for houmatoday.com. The plaintiffs argue that Terrebonne’s judicial district violates the Voting Rights Act, and seek “to alter the at-large voting system to a district-based method in an effort to create a minority subdistrict.” The plaintiffs highlight that “[e]ven though black residents comprise 20 percent of Terrebonne Parish’s population, no black candidate has ever been elected in a contested election to the 32nd Judicial District under the current at-large system.” The state has argued that “the defendants did not impose a racist voting practice and that black and white voters have similar opportunities to register to vote, run for elected office, hold elected office and participate in elections.” A verdict is expected in August. Parish President Gordy Dove said he thinks “[i]t’s going to go into appeals court no matter which side wins.”