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Fair Courts E-Lert: Biden Announces First Round of Judicial Nominees

This Fair Courts E-Lert highlights Biden’s first round of judicial nominees, the live broadcasting of former police officer Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, and more

Last Updated: April 9, 2021
Published: July 15, 2021

Biden Announces First Round of Judicial Nominees

On March 30, President Joe Biden announced his plan to nominate 10 individuals to serve as federal circuit and district court judges. Among the nominees was D.C. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who would fill the vacancy on the D.C. Circuit left by Attorney General Merrick Garland and who is widely considered to be a potential future Supreme Court nominee. Biden also announced a nominee to serve on the D.C. Superior Court.

Biden’s first round of nominees brings greater diversity to the bench – both in terms of background and professional experience. His three appeals court nominees, including Judge Jackson, are Black women. Three other nominees, if confirmed, would be the first Muslim American federal judge, the first Asian American woman to serve on the D.C. District Court, and the first woman of color to serve as a federal judge in Maryland. Biden’s list also includes four former public defenders, something that is rare among federal jurists.

Biden is moving at a faster pace than his predecessors in announcing nominations, according to The Washington Post“By this point in his first term, Obama had made only one judicial nomination. Trump, known for his record-setting pace of nominations, had picked two.”

Former Police Officer Derek Chauvin Murder Trial Livestreamed

The murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, is being broadcast live on TV and streaming services.

The trial is Minnesota’s first criminal case to be televised and the first case in state court to be live-streamed, according to Minnesota Public Radio. Previously, Minnesota barred almost all live coverage of courtroom proceedings, but Hennepin County Judge Peter Cahill made an exception due to Covid-19 and widespread public interest in the trial.

Despite allowing TV coverage and live streaming, Judge Cahill imposed numerous restrictions on audio and video broadcasting for the trial. Among other things, no video of witnesses under the age of 18 or members of the Floyd family is permitted without their consent. The faces of jurors cannot be shown at any time, and no cameras may zoom in on counsel tables except when a verdict is taken.

On live streaming the trial, Brennan Center expert Alicia Bannon said that while “[t]here are huge advantages to that ability to hold people accountable, there are tradeoffs,” such as the disclosure of personal information that could end up online.

California Supreme Court Ends Cash Bail for Some Who Cannot Afford to Pay

On March 25, the California Supreme Court unanimously held that courts may not jail people charged with a crime in pre-trial detention solely because they cannot afford to pay bail.

“The common practice of conditioning freedom solely on whether an arrestee can afford bail is unconstitutional,” the justices said. Instead, “the court must consider the arrestee’s ability to pay the stated amount of bail—and may not effectively detain the arrestee ‘solely because’ the arrestee ‘lacked the resources’ to post bail.”

The court’s decision was made in the case of Kenneth Humphrey, who was accused of stealing $7 and a bottle of cologne from his neighbor in 2017. His bail was initially set at $600,000, though it was later reduced to $350,000. The decision also comes just a few months after California voters rejected Proposition 25, which would have entirely ended the use of cash bail and required statewide use of controversial risk assessment tools.

New Research on State Court Caseloads During Covid-19

The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) recently published a new paper and dashboard detailing trends in state court case filings and dispositions during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The research, based on data from 12 states, found that the number of criminal, traffic, and juvenile cases decreased last year and is likely to return to normal over the course of 2021. However, NCSC did not expect a surge in these types of cases because there was a widespread decline in criminal incidents, traffic incidents, and arrests since the outset of the pandemic.

The number of case filings in civil cases, on the other hand, are expected to surge according to NCSC, especially for cases dealing with eviction, foreclosure, and debt-collection, due to the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic. The number of juvenile dependency and domestic relations cases are also expected to surge as more children return to school and people become more mobile and able to leave their current living situation.