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New Roundup: State Legislatures Making Political Push to Limit Power of Courts

Amid the Trump administration’s continued attacks on the federal judiciary, there has been a quieter political push targeting state courts. This roundup looks at laws from state legislatures that pose the biggest threat.

May 8, 2017

41 Bills in 15 States Target Judiciary, Including Legislation to Override Court Decisions

State lawmakers have introduced a wave of laws that threaten the courts’ essential role in our democracy — including a new and worrying string of bills that would allow legislatures to override court decisions — according to a new roundup by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law. The efforts to limit or politicize state courts’ power come as the Trump administration continues to personally criticize and question the legitimacy of federal judges.

Assaults on the Courts: A Legislative Roundup details 41 bills — introduced in 15 states — that include efforts to politicize judicial selection, to unseat judges currently on courts, and generally to restrict courts’ jurisdiction and power. Nine of those bills — introduced in seven states — would give the legislature the power to invalidate or refuse to enforce court rulings.

“State courts hear more than 95 percent of all cases nationwide, and if passed these bills would have a wide-ranging impact on the everyday lives of people across the country,” said Alicia Bannon, senior counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The proposals allowing lawmakers to override or ignore court decisions are particularly alarming. Separation of powers is a hallmark of American democracy. Lawmakers tinkering with courts to gain partisan advantage undermines the role of courts in our constitutional system.”

The roundup highlights North Carolina as a state where legislative efforts to undermine the role of the courts have been particularly severe. Since Democrats won control of the governor’s office and the state Supreme Court in November, the Republican-controlled legislature has passed several bills weakening the governor’s power over judicial selection and entrenching Republican control in the lower courts, and is currently considering additional measures. The efforts to politically manipulate the court are so brazen that a Republican-appointed, intermediate appellate court judge recently resigned in protest.

To read or download the full roundup, click here