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Analysis

Fair Courts E-Lert: Brennan Center Calls for SCOTUS Ethics Code; Lawsuits Filed Against ICE for Courthouse Arrests

This week’s Fair Courts E-Lert highlights Chief Justice’s Robert’s rejection of allegations of partisanship, a lawsuit in Iowa over changes to the state’s judicial nominating commission, an upcoming Brennan Center event on judicial diversity, and more.

October 4, 2019

[FAIR COURTS]

event

ANNOUNCEMENTS

Upcoming Event: Building a Diverse Bench

On Thursday, October 10, from 6-8pm, the Brennan Center will host an event at NYU School of Law to discuss the extreme lack of diversity among judges across the country. RSVP here.

Panelists will discuss diversity on state and federal benches, how existing institutions pose hurdles for women and people of color, and how to help build more diverse benches for the future.

Speakers include: Vanita Gupta, President and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights; Hon. Robert A. Gordon, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Maryland; Hon. Joseph Zayas, Queens Supreme Court; and the Brennan Center’s Alicia Bannon. Keesha Gaskins-Nathan, Program Director at the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, will moderate.

SUPREME COURT

Chief Justice Roberts Rejects Allegations of Partisanship, Open to Ethics Reform

Last week, Chief Justice John Roberts dismissed criticisms that the U.S. Supreme Court was partisan at a talk at Temple Emanu-El in New York City. “A lot of the criticism is based on misperception,” he said. Last term, “we had nineteen 5-4 decisions, and seven of them were divided with the five justices appointed by Republican presidents in the majority and the four justices appointed by Democratic presidents in dissent,” he continued. “The point is that when you live in a politically polarized environment, people tend to see everything in those terms. That’s not how we at the court function, and the results in our cases do not suggest otherwise.”

The Chief Justice is reportedly more receptive than he was previously to calls for the Supreme Court to adopt an ethics code. Earlier this year, Justice Elena Kagan indicated that Roberts is “studying the question of whether to have a code of judicial conduct that is applicable only to the Unites States Supreme Court.” Previously, he rejected the need for a Supreme Court ethics code. Last week, the Brennan Center published Supreme Court Ethics Reform, a white paper urging the Supreme Court to, among other things, adopt its own code of ethical conduct, as it is the only court in the country – state or federal – not bound by a code of conduct.

STATE COURTS

Iowa Lawyer Sues Governor Over Changes to Judicial Nominating Commission

The Associated Press reports that Thomas Duff, a lawyer and former applicant for a judgeship on the Iowa Court of Appeals, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Kim Reynolds and other government officials, “arguing a new law that gives the governor more power over the commission that selects Supreme Court and appeals judges is unconstitutional” because of the process by which the commission was adopted.

The law at issue, SF 638, “shortened the term of Iowa Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Cady, removed Supreme Court Justice David Wiggins from the commission and allowed Reynolds to replace him with her own appointee.” As reported by AP, “[c]ritics say the changes shifted the balance of the commission, allowing the GOP governor to get more conservative nominees onto the courts.”

This is the second legal challenge to the new law. According to AP, “[t]he first lawsuit, filed by a group of Democratic legislators and a member of the State Judicial Nominating Commission, was dismissed in June by a judge who said the legislators and commission member lacked standing to sue.” That decision, however, has been appealed to the Iowa Supreme Court and “will take months to resolve.”

New Lawsuits Filed Against ICE for Courthouse Arrests in New York State

On September 25, two lawsuits were announced against the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) for their arrests of non-citizens in and around at New York State courthouses. The first lawsuit was filed by Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez and New York State Attorney General Letitia James, and the second lawsuit was filed by the Legal Aid Society and the law firm Cleary Gottlieb on behalf of a coalition of groups.

The lawsuits follow a report by the Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) documenting a substantial increase in ICE courthouse operations in New York State, including 202 ICE courthouse operations (178 arrests) in 2018 and 172 operations (159 arrests) in 2017. In 2016, IDP documented only 11 courthouse operations, all of which involved arrests.

Describing the basis for the lawsuits, James said, “[u]nfortunately, a two-year pattern of civil immigration arrests by federal ICE agents in and around state courts has caused a major disruption to state court operations.” “It deters non-citizens and immigrants from assisting state and local law enforcement efforts or protecting their own right in court.”

This summer, a federal judge in Massachusetts granted a preliminary injunction to prosecutors and public defenders who joined together in a similar lawsuit to stop ICE’s courthouse operations.