Time is Running Out to Confirm Judge Garland

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Merrick_Garland_speaks_at_his_Supreme_Court_nomination_with_President_ObamaThe unprecedented, and unconstitutional, obstruction of Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland is just one of many recent missteps by Republican leaders.  For example, mainstream Republican presidential candidates strategically withheld their attacks on Donald Trump during the primary season, in the hopes that he would be an easy target to topple once the field sorted out.  This was a major blunder.  More broadly, the decision of Republican leaders in Congress to make the repeal of the Affordable Care Act the centerpiece of their legislative agenda, at a time when Republicans lacked a veto-proof majority, was an empty gesture which merely fueled anger among their Party’s base and ultimately made Trump possible. Both of these decisions were political calculations that seemed clever at the time, but which turned out to have disastrous consequences for the Republican Party.   However, the unjustified refusal to hold hearings on a highly-regarded and moderate Supreme Court nominee has the potential to dwarf every other political miscalculation that Republican leaders have made over the last eight years.

First of all, it is important to recognize that Judge Merrick Garland is a laudable nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.  He is a former federal prosecutor, a highly respected Judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, and someone identified by Senator Orrin Hatch and other prominent Republicans (prior to his nomination) as the type of judge who would receive bi-partisan support in Congress.  Post-nomination arguments raised about Judge Garland’s supposed lack of respect for the Second Amendment are not justified by his actual opinions and, in reality, are merely a fig leaf contrived to rationalize opposition to the nomination by Republican lawmakers.

In addition, the refusal of the Senate to take up the nomination is a clear violation of the Constitution. Read more »

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Trump’s Rhetoric, Proposed Policies, and the Rule of Law

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Category: Constitutional Law, Federalism, First Amendment, Immigration Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Media & Journalism, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Religion & Law
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For some, presumptive Republican nominee for president Donald J. Trump’s biggest appeal is his blustery persona and his take-no-prisoners attitude in his quest to “Make America Great Again.” For example, he started his campaign with a bold promise to build a wall on the United States border to keep out Mexican immigrants. More than that, Trump said, he would make Mexico pay for that wall. Mexican President Vincente Fox said Mexico would not and Trump just upped the ante. When Wolf Blitzer asked Trump how he would get the Mexican government to pay for a wall, Trump responded simply, “I will and the wall just got 10 feet taller, believe me.”

And, in the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse, the gay nightclub in Orlando, Trump renewed his call to profile on the basis of race/ethnic origin and religion, in order prevent future terrorist attacks. (The Pulse nightclub shooter was American-born and raised; his parents were refugees from Afghanistan, but his father became a naturalized American citizen.) Though claiming he hates the “concept” of profiling, he says other countries profile, and “it’s not the worst thing to do.” Earlier in his campaign, after the San Bernardino shooting in December 2015, he talked about increasing surveillance of Muslims and mosques and has suggested registering Muslims or mandating that they carry cards that identify them as Muslims.

Trump also doesn’t suffer fools gladly—or more precisely, he doesn’t suffer his version of “fools” gladly. When the Honorable Gonzalo P. Curiel, the federal circuit judge presiding over two class action suits against Trump University, ordered documents in the suit be unsealed—documents that are likely to shed negative light on Trump University, Trump spoke loudly and often about Judge Curiel as a “hater” and biased against Trump because, in Trump’s view, Judge Curiel is Mexican and, presumably, would not like Trump’s wall. (Judge Curiel is an American, born in Indiana.) Trump went even further, seemingly threatening the judge: “They ought to look into Judge Curiel, because what Judge Curiel is doing is a total disgrace. . . . O.K.? But we will come back in November. Wouldn’t that be wild if I am president and come back and do a civil case?”

As well, just over a week ago, Trump revoked The Washington Post’s press credentials to cover his campaign because he did not like how it wrote about some of his comments after the mass shooting at Pulse, calling the publication “phony and dishonest.” Trump seems particularly thorny about The Washington Post’s owner, Jeff Bezos, who founded Amazon. Like Judge Curiel, Bezos has been on the receiving end of what seems very much like a Trump threat. According to The New York Times, Trump said in February about Bezos, “He owns Amazon. . . . He wants political influence so Amazon will benefit from it. That’s not right. And believe me, if I become president, oh do they have problems. They’re going to have such problems.”

These examples and more have a common theme: Trump’s disdain for the rule of law, if not outright ignorance of it. Read more »

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How to Interpret Away the Home Rule Provision (in 4 Easy Steps)

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Category: Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Milwaukee, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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homeruleToday the Wisconsin Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Black v. City of Milwaukee, 2016 WI 47, holding that a state law (Wis. Stat. 66.0502) that prohibits cities and other municipalities from imposing residency requirements on municipal employees does not contravene the Home Rule provision of the Wisconsin Constitution (Art. XI, sec. 3(1)).  The result of the ruling is that the City of Milwaukee may no longer require city employees to reside within the City limits, with the resultant loss of significant tax revenue for Milwaukee.

Reading the text of the Home Rule provision, one might reasonably question how the Wisconsin Supreme Court arrived at this conclusion.  The relevant text of Art. XI states:

Cities and villages organized pursuant to state law may determine their local affairs and government, subject only to this constitution and to such enactments of the legislature of statewide concern as with uniformity shall affect every city or every village.

However, the Justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court have very helpfully demonstrated how the clear language of the Wisconsin Constitution can be interpreted away in four easy steps. Read more »

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Donald Trump and the Belief in Law

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Uncategorized
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Donald_Trump_-_CaricatureAmong Donald Trump’s many provocative statements, his recent claims that a specific federal judge with a “Mexican heritage” and Muslim judges in general would be biased against him have apparently struck a special chord.  Even Trump’s fellow Republicans have been highly critical.  Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for example, completed disavowed Trump’s claims, noting “All of us come here from somewhere else.”

Most of the criticisms deplore Trump’s lack of respect for American diversity and also his racism.  House Speaker Paul Ryan said in this regard that Trump’s comments amounted to “textbook racism.”  However, I wonder if some part of the strong negative reaction also relates to Trump’s challenge to an American belief in law and in the courts’ ability to apply law in a fair and objective manner.

I have argued in several of my writings that a belief in law should be recognized as an important tenet of American ideology, with “ideology” being understood as a normative expression of dominant beliefs rather than as a manipulative falsehood.  Americans have traditionally believed in law, which is presumably understandable, made in public, and useful for one and all.  In addition, law is supposed to be applied without bias, and independent courts in particular are expected to adjudicate disputes fairly and to decide similar cases in similar ways.  “Ideologues” — that is, believers in and promoters of this ideology– routinely assure us that Americans live by the rule of law more so than any other nation. Read more »

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Insights Offered on Working in the White House and Judicial Nomination Gridlock

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, President & Executive Branch, Public, Sports & Law
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It was three years from the time Brett Kavanaugh was nominated by President George W. Bush to be a federal appeals court judge to the time when his nomination was approved in 2006. That certainly gave him a first-hand look at the difficulties of getting a federal judicial nominee approved by the U.S. Senate.

“It’s been a mess for decades,” Kavanaugh, who serves on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, said Wednesday during an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School. Republicans have held up appointments by Democratic presidents. Democrats have help up appointments by Republican presidents.

Kavanaugh would not comment specifically on the current high-profile part of this recurring “mess,” in which President Barrack Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court has met a wall of Republican opposition in the Senate.

But Kavanaugh repeated a position he has held for years, one that was in line with the policy Bush advocated when he was president: “There really should be rules of the road agreed on by both parties ahead of time to fix the process. “ Kavanaugh said Bush, during his presidency, had suggested a policy in which nominations would get a vote in the Senate within 180 days. Kavanaugh supported that idea. Read more »

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Limited Terms for Justices Worth Considering, Appeals Judge Says in Hallows Lecture 

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Category: Federal Law & Legal System, Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme Court
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Judge Albert Diaz began his E. Harold Hallows Lecture at Marquette Law School last week by saying that he was going to offer thoughts on life tenure for federal judges ”which I’m pretty confident do not reflect the views of many, if not all, of my judicial colleagues.”

But Diaz, a judge since 2010 on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, thought the ideas he presented to be worth considering, especially at a time when concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court, including how justices are appointed, are getting so much attention.

In his Eckstein Hall lecture, Diaz outlined arguments for and against both life tenure for federal judges and election of judges. He traced the debate back to the U.S. constitutional convention in 1787 and the opposing views for and against life tenure. The former prevailed, of course.

“The act of judging is not for the faint of heart,” Diaz said. “Judging is a human endeavor” and decisions are “not always free from taint.” But it is difficult to decide what “on the front end,” i.e., in determining who will be a judge, would best minimize the chances of tainted judicial work.

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The Senate Must Consider Supreme Court Nominations in Due Course

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Category: Congress & Congressional Power, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Ford-Potential-Nominees-to-CourtToday, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, announced the unprecedented decision that the United States Senate will refuse to consider any nominee put forward by President Obama during the remainder of his term in office to fill the current vacancy on the United States Supreme Court.  Senator McConnell said, “My decision is that I don’t think that we should have a hearing.  We should let the next president pick the Supreme Court justice.”

The refusal of the United States Senate to consider any nominee put forth by President Obama is a clear violation of the Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution.  Under the Appointments Clause (Article II, Section 2, Clause 2):

The President . . . shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States, whose Appointments are not herein otherwise provided for, and which shall be established by Law. . .

The role of the President is to appoint nominees to the United States Supreme Court.  The role of the Senate is to provide their “advice and consent” to the President on the specific nominee.

The meaning is “advice and consent” is clear and uncontroversial.  The Framers of the Constitution recognized that absolute monarchs such as the King of England had abused the power to appoint public officials.  This abuse was due to the monarch’s absolute power to appoint anyone they chose.  In response, the Constitution divided the power to appoint superior public officials and Supreme Court Justices between the Executive (the President) and the Senate.  The Framers of the Constitution diffused the appointment power, just as they diffused several other powers among separate branches of the federal government in order to guard against abuse.

However, the separation of the power to appoint into two pieces is not split 50-50 between the President and the Senate.  Rather, the split is made between the President’s absolute power to select any nominee he or she chooses, and the Senate’s power to accept or reject the nominee.  The intent of the Appointments Clause is to give the Senate a check on the President’s choice, in order to prevent nominations that result from corruption, cronyism, or the advancement of unqualified nominees (i.e., family members).  The Appointments Clause does not give the Senate any role in deciding who or when the President will nominate.

In fact, the Senate has no pre-nomination role at all in the appointment process.  The Senate’s only role under the Constitution arises after the President makes a nomination.  In this regard, it has often been remarked that the power of initiative lies with the President under the Appointments Clause. Read more »

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Justice Scalia at Marquette Law School

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Category: Education & Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Education, Marquette Law School, Public, Seventh Circuit, U.S. Supreme Court
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Judge Diane Sykes introduces Justice Antonin Scalia at the dedication of Eckstein Hall

Judge Sykes introduces Justice Scalia

It seems to be common ground that it will be hard to imagine the United States Supreme Court without the late Justice Antonin Scalia. He was a force also in legal education more directly. That is, he was a teacher, and he taught his theories of constitutional and statutory interpretation with intellect and energy, even outside of his writings in the U.S. Reports.

 

Justice Scalia visited us at Marquette University Law School on two occasions. The first was in 2001 to deliver our annual Hallows Lecture, where some 500 people were with him in the Weasler Auditorium, while a group of the same size watched a video feed in the Monaghan Ballroom of the Alumni Memorial Union. For me, the more memorable moment in that visit came when the Justice first arrived to campus, where an overflowing group of law students awaited him in Room 307 of Sensenbrenner Hall. The dean at the time, Howard B. Eisenberg, told the students that I would introduce him, because “Without Professor Kearney, there would be no Justice Scalia here.” Even before I could say anything, Justice Scalia brought the house down with this interjection: “I thought that, without Justice Scalia, there would be no Professor Kearney here.”

Justice Scalia returned to deliver the keynote address at the dedication of Eckstein Hall on September 8, 2010. He relaxed his strictures on recording, and the entire ceremony can be seen here, with an account of it appearing in the Marquette Law Review. I especially recall this comment of Judge Diane S. Sykes, L’84, in introducing the Justice:

“So we are fortunate, indeed, that this history-making justice has joined us here today as we make a little history of our own. When Dean Kearney unveiled the plans for this beautiful building two years ago, he famously declared that Eckstein Hall will be ‘noble, bold, harmonious, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, in a word, great.’ It certainly is. And with the possible exception of harmonious—Justice Scalia has been known to say that one of his charms is that he likes to tell people what they don’t want to hear—the dean’s description of this distinguished and splendid building might likewise be applied to our distinguished and splendid visitor. So, ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming the noble, bold, dramatic, confident, slightly willful, and, and in a word, great Justice Antonin Scalia.”

There are things to learn from the remarks of Justice Scalia and the other speakers that day, including then-Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, whether in the recording or the law review account linked above. My own recollection of Justice Scalia has appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and can be found here.

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Transparency in Government Includes the Judiciary

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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Sun_and_Moon_Nuremberg_chronicleThe following commentary appears in this week’s Wisconsin Law Journal:

Transparency is the core value of a democratic society. In a democratic self-government, voters have the power to select and reject those who will wield the power of government.

The power of the vote is only meaningful if the voters have information upon which to act. This is where transparency in government comes in.

In the case of the governor, the voters need to know whether their tax dollars are being steered towards political donors and whether state resources are being used to advance partisan political purposes. This is why the prospect of executive-branch officials communicating through private emails, and taking other steps to hide the true reasons for executive decisions from the public, is so troubling.

In the case of the state Legislature, the voters need to know whether lawmakers are exercising their power independently. Our representatives in the state legislature shouldn’t act as mere conduits for self-serving laws drafted by special-interest groups. Wisconsin was a leader, through the creation of the Legislative Reference Bureau in 1901, in our nation’s history in insisting that legislators draft their own laws.

The role of our state judges, in enforcing the value of transparency in government, is vital. This role has two components. First, it is essential that our state judges enforce transparency on the other two branches of state government. Second, our state judges must comply with the need to be transparent within their own judicial branch. Read more »

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Making a Murderer: Oh-So-Many Talking Points

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law & Process, Evidence, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Ethics, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Popular Culture & Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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635874987555624158-XXX-IMG-NETFLIX-MAKING-A-MUR-1-1-VGCTGMDU-78432434As the winter break winds down, it’s definitely worth your time to start binge-watching Making a Murderer, a recent Netflix documentary on a real-life criminal case. A very close-to-home criminal case, at that.

The documentary, filmed over 10 years, follows Steven Avery, who was convicted in 1985 of sexual assault. He maintained his innocence and, indeed, 18 years later DNA evidence exonerated him. After he was released, he sued Manitowoc County for his wrongful conviction. It looks as though that lawsuit starts digging up some very unsavory conduct among officials in Manitowoc County.

But then—Avery is arrested for the murder of photographer Teresa Halbach. Several months later, his nephew Brendan Dassey is also arrested.

I’ll stop there with plot. If you’ve been around Wisconsin, you’ve probably heard of the case. If you’ve been on the Internet in the last couple of weeks, you’ve almost surely heard of it. But you must watch it.

For law students, there’s so many teachable moments. For everyone, there’s so much to talk about. Read more »

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Judge Maxine White: Aiming to Provide Well-Run, Fair Courts, not Oprah Episodes

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Milwaukee, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Court System
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What can you expect from the courts in Milwaukee County?

A system that does everything well, from the ultimate decisions down to the way people are received at the security points at the entrances to buildings.

A system that is well run and staffed by well-trained people in every role.

A system where people feel safe in the courthouse and people, especially crime victims, are treated with respect.

A system that handles cases of all kinds in a fair way, providing a fair forum without politics .

A system that does all it can to be sure civil cases as well as criminal cases, small claims as well as high-profile  major crimes, are handled effectively, professionally, and as promptly as possible.

Those are among the goals set out Wednesday by Judge Maxine White, who recently became chief judge of the first judicial district of Wisconsin (which is to say, Milwaukee County). She spoke at an “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School. Read more »

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In Memory of Justice Patrick Crooks

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Public, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Justice CrooksJustice N. Patrick Crooks was the epitome of a lawyer and judge who lived to serve. In his fifty-two-year legal career, he served as a captain in the office of the Judge Advocate General at the Pentagon and then as a lawyer in private practice in Green Bay, before becoming a Brown County circuit court judge and then justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court. In 1994 he was named Wisconsin Trial Judge of the Year by the Wisconsin Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Justice Crooks served on the trial bench for nineteen years and on the Wisconsin Supreme Court from 1996 to his passing, in chambers, last week on September 21.

I was honored to work for Justice Crooks as his clerk during the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s 1999-2000 term.

Justice Crooks approached each case with fresh eyes and an impartial mind. He reasoned through cases carefully and understood that he had a solemn role in deciding a case. Justice Crooks believed in the law and the justice system. Every case was fully analyzed and researched before oral argument. Opinions were to be written to guide lawyers, judges, and Wisconsin citizens. Justice Crooks was proud of his work on the trial bench and felt that his knowledge of the trial courtroom was important to his understanding of cases on appeal.

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