New Analysis: State Legislatures Assault Courts’ Authority, Independence

February 6, 2018

Yesterday, Pennsylvania Republicans began an effort to impeach all five of their state’s supreme court justices who ruled that Pennsylvania’s Republican-drawn congressional map was an illegal partisan gerrymander. In a new report, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law found that this vivid example is only the latest of a concerted attack by state legislatures on the judicial branch in the Trump era – just as courts are beginning to seem the last line of defense against partisan overreach from the other branches.

So far in 2018, legislators in at least 14 states are considering at least 42 bills to diminish the independence or power of courts, or simply make it harder for judges to do their job – often in a manner deeply at odds with our American democracy’s system of checks and balances. In some cases, these bills directly followed rulings by courts that undermined partisan priorities in the states in question.

“The judicial branch plays a unique and vital role in our democracy – it is the only independent check on the political branches, and the only branch of our government required to make decisions regardless of external political pressures” said Douglas Keith, counsel in the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “It may be a temporary phenomenon of our hyper-partisan age, but legislators attempting to seize power from the judicial branch can do real, permanent damage to our entire democratic system.”

Some laws seek to give the legislature or governor more power over judicial selection; others give the legislature power to override court decisions and decide the constitutionality of laws they themselves wrote; still others exert political, financial, or other pressures on courts.

Read the full analysis, Legislative Assaults on State Courts – 2018.

Read more about the Brennan Center’s work to protect Fair Courts.

For more information or to schedule an interview, contact Naren Daniel at (646) 292-8381 or naren.daniel@nyu.edu.

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