New Blog Tracking Michigan Courts

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process2 Comments on New Blog Tracking Michigan Courts

I recently received notice of an interesting new blog that tracks new cases and other court-related developments in Michigan, One Court of Justice.  The content is described this way:

• Timely updates about grants and denials of leave for the Michigan Supreme Court
• News events and analysis
• Upcoming oral arguments
• Summaries of all Michigan Supreme Court merits decisions
• Summaries of key opinions from the Michigan Court of Appeals

I wonder how many states have blogs of this nature that cover the local court system.  Has anyone seen a comprehensive list?

Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Western District of Wisconsin, Wisconsin Court System2 Comments on Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*

Much of the attention following yesterday’s decision in Siefert v. Alexander focuses upon the invalidation of prohibitions against judges or judicial candidates belonging to political parties and endorsing partisan candidates for office. That part of Judge Crabb’s decision seems to me, given the balance between regulatory interests and the protection of speech struck by the United States Supreme Court in Republican Party v. White, to be clearly correct.

And not, in my view, very momentous. Many judges have prejudicial partisan affiliations and, in highly salient elections, it is not hard for the public to discern whether a  candidate is a Republican or Democrat.  In fact, one could argue that allowing candidates to claim partisan affiliation is a relatively efficient way to provide pertinent information to voters in campaigns where discussion of the issues is difficult and often cramped by legal and customary restrictions.  It’s not that we expect judges to rule in whatever way their party wants (although, as Judge Crabb points out, the prior partisan affiliation of federal judges is strongly correlated with voting patterns), but that partisan affiliation may tell us something (admittedly broad and general) about a candidate’s judicial philosophy.

More significant, it seems to me, is that part of the decision striking down the Code of Judicial Conduct’s prohibition against the personal solicitation of funds by judges and judicial candidates. Continue reading “Okay, Judge, You Hit Your Number or Die in This Room*”

From Russia with Love

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Wisconsin Supreme Court2 Comments on From Russia with Love

In my first post, I want to thank Dean O’Hear for the invitation to serve as January’s Student Blogger of the Month, as well as my predecessors for the high bar they have set for me.  It’s rare that someone willingly gives me a forum to opine on topics of my choosing, and I am glad (and honored!) to have this one. 

A little over a month ago The Economist ran a special report on corruption in Russia, including a brief note about the mounting problems within the Russian judiciary.  Although the latter article mostly contains interesting observations regarding prosecutorial abuse within the criminal justice system, I want to highlight one particular passage concerning civil litigation:

Things are not much better in corporate disputes. Large companies rarely trust in a judge’s unprompted decision. In commercial courts a judge often takes a bribe for reaching a speedy conclusion. All this helps to explain why the European Court of Human Rights is overwhelmed with Russian cases, and why large Russian companies seek justice in London. The Yukos case [described in the former link] showed that the courts have become part of the Kremlin machinery. The problem, says one Moscow lawyer, is that “the law in Russia is often trumped by money and always by high-level power.”

According to some, the same thing may be happening in the United States.  Continue reading “From Russia with Love”

First Among Equals

Posted on Categories Federal Criminal Law & Process, Judges & Judicial ProcessLeave a comment» on First Among Equals

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is widely seen as the “first among equals” of the U.S. circuit courts. It is the most prominent, it deals with the biggest cases, and its opinions are most highly regarded. This need not necessarily be the case. During the time that Learned Hand (left) and his cousin Augustus sat on the Second Circuit, for instance, the Second Circuit was the most prominent in the land. When the U.S. Supreme Court failed to assemble a quorum to hear an important antitrust case, the Court chose to certify the case to a panel of the Second Circuit for final resolution. Learned Hand authored a significant antitrust decision for the panel in the case (148 F.2d 416), and their power of mandamus was later upheld by the Supreme Court (334 U.S. 258). I have heard it argued that the Ninth Circuit is on the rise to the point where it may soon displace the D.C. Circuit as the most prominent court below the Supreme Court.

I mention all of this to ask the simple question, prompted by yesterday’s indictment of Governor Blagojevich: Is the Northern District of Illinois the new Southern District of New York? Traditionally, SDNY, as it’s known in the case cites, has been the most prominent of the federal district courts. For instance, Rudy Giuliani left his post as the associate attorney general, number three at Department of Justice, to become U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

But with Patrick Fitzgerald running the Northern District of Illinois, that seems to be the home of many major cases.  Continue reading “First Among Equals”

Does “Judicial Activist” Mean Something?

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process18 Comments on Does “Judicial Activist” Mean Something?

Does the term “judicial activism” have some objective meaning? The Capital Times does not seem to think so, reporting earlier this week:

[C]ourt observers and legal scholars are skeptical that the descriptive terms [judicial activist and strict constructionist] have any meaning, except as buzzwords used by conservative candidates to create a clear distinction between themselves and their more liberal rivals.

Now, I do not intend to defend “strict constructionist,” which is the term the story uses to describe conservatives, because I do not think most conservatives are “strict constructionists.” To quote Justice Scalia,

I do not think the Constitution, or any text should be interpreted either strictly or sloppily; it should be interpreted reasonably. Many of my interpretations do not deserve the description “strict.” I do believe, however, that you give the text the meaning it had when it was adopted.

Textualist and originalist are better terms. Judicial restraint used to be the preferred description, although judicial modesty is on the rise as the preferred label.

My point in this post, however, is to defend the term “judicial activist” as possessing objective meaning.

Continue reading “Does “Judicial Activist” Mean Something?”

Another SCR Bites the Dust?

Posted on Categories First Amendment, Judges & Judicial Process, Western District of Wisconsin8 Comments on Another SCR Bites the Dust?

In Duwe v. Alexander, prominent First Amendment attorney James Bopp won a federal district court decision (PDF) striking down SCR 60.06(3)(b), part of the Wisconsin Code of Judicial Ethics. Bopp convinced Judge Shabaz that the Code’s section prohibiting judges from making “pledges, promises, or commitments” interfered with their free speech rights under Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002).

Bopp is currently pursuing another free speech claim in Siefert v. Alexander, again in the Western District federal court (PDF). Here, Bopp represents a Milwaukee County judge who is challenging three sections of the Code that prohibit judges from belonging to or participating in political parties.

He is also counsel to Justice Michael Gableman in the disciplinary proceedings regarding Gableman’s campaign TV ad. In the reply to the Judicial Commission’s charges (PDF), he affirmatively asserts that SCR 60.06(3)(2), the “misrepresentations” clause, is an unconstitutional impingement on free speech.

In other words, Bopp’s litigation in Wisconsin has successfully taken down one judicial ethics code section, and four more are under challenge.

But Bopp is litigating outside Wisconsin as well, and a recent decision Bopp won in a federal court in Kansas may result in new litigation in Wisconsin. Yesterday, Bopp issued a release hailing Judge Julie A. Robinson’s decision in Yost v. Stout, which struck down the Kansas Judicial Code’s ban on the direct solicitation of campaign donations by judicial candidates. Wisconsin SCR 60.06(4) says that “A judge, candidate for judicial office, or judge-elect shall not personally solicit or accept campaign contributions.” Under the federal district court’s decision in Kansas, it seems clear that 60.06(4) is unconstitutional. Will a Wisconsin judge or candidate soon challenge it as such?

A Judicial Visit to the Classroom

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on A Judicial Visit to the Classroom

Thanks to the Hon. Diane S. Sykes (Marquette University Law School, ’84) for speaking to my Wisconsin Supreme Court class this afternoon. Judge Sykes now serves on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, but spent five terms on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and shared something of her experience on the court and about the nature of a collegial court with students.

One of the things that I hoped was clear to the students is the notion that even these experienced and gifted lawyers on a court of last resort struggle with the law. Minds change and dissents become majority opinions. While differences in philosophy are real (Judge Sykes does not shy from referring to “conservative” and “liberal” jurists while warning that these labels are not comprehensive and their use is complicated), judges grapple with hard cases and their differences are not simply consequentialist. She talked briefly about a decision — which she knew we had discussed in class — about whether a condition of probation might be that the defendant (who had been convicted of wilful failure to support his nine children) refrain from having further children until he could support those he already had (a state of affairs that was extremely unlikely). While the potential consequences are unpalatable, then Justice Sykes (joined in dissent by two “liberal” justices, Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson and Justice Ann Walsh Bradley) concluded that the law prohibited such a condition. Even if we disagree with that view, the recognition that hard cases can make bad law should be married to the idea that they should not.

Finding a New Canon of Statutory Interpretation in an Old Case

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Finding a New Canon of Statutory Interpretation in an Old Case

Yesterday, Professor Anita Krishnakumar gave an intriguing presentation on her latest paper entitled “The Hidden Legacy of Holy Trinity Church: The National Narrative Canon.”  A copy of her paper can be found here.  In her paper, Professor Krishnakumar explores the controversial, but not often discussed, portion of the famous Holy Trinity Church decision.  The well-known, and still somewhat controversial, portion of the decision finds the Court relying on the “spirit” of the statute instead of its plain language — with support from legislative history.  The more controversial section of the opinion argues that even setting aside traditional methods of statutory interpretation, the statute — which was essentially an anti-immigrant labor statute — could not be enforced against the employer church because the United States of America “is a Christian nation.”  Professor Krishnakumar argues that this methodology constitutes an interpretive canon for statutory interpretation: the national narrative canon.  She also points to other Supreme Court opinions that use a similar methodology where the Court not only uses traditional interpretive canons, but also this national narrative canon — relying on history and public norms — in deciding the cases.

Professor Krishnakumar warns that this newly-identified, but long extant, national narrative canon poses a threat to the perceived legitimacy of courts’ statutory interpretation because it often runs contrary to the text of the statute, produces bad policy, and can create an unfair exception for a particular entity.  While the national narrative canon has been used selectively, it will be interesting to see if the Supreme Court — and indeed other courts — moves more towards this public norms approach to statutory interpretation.  In this age of New Textualism, it strikes me as likely that — as seen with the cases Professor Krishnakumar analyzes — to the degree its used, the Court will couple the national narrative canon with another more traditional approach to statutory interpretation in reaching its decision.  In this regard, the Court will continue to make the national narrative canon less effective in terms of precedential value, seemingly serving more as dicta.  However, its potential effect  should not be understated, as these portions of the Court’s opinion can still have powerful effects in the political realm in ways which may run contrary to our society’s commitment to pluralism and diversity.

Spin Doctoring and the Judiciary

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Wisconsin Court System2 Comments on Spin Doctoring and the Judiciary

I was extremely lucky to represent Marquette Law School this past Saturday night at the Wisconsin Equal Justice Fund’s Howard B. Eisenberg Lifetime Achievement Award Dinner, and the highlight of the event for me was not only my opportunity to meet and take a picture with Justice Louis Butler, but also to hear him present the Lifetime Achievement Award to Judge James A. Gramling, Jr. However, there were two things about Justice Butler’s speech that caught my attention. First, he began his speech by saying, “I’m Justice Louis Butler, and I’m not under investigation for anything.” Now, granted, this was an audience that had given him a thunderous standing ovation on his way to the podium, so he was certainly in the right crowd to make that joke. Nevertheless, it surprised me how eagerly everyone in the room applauded him; it certainly didn’t feel as though it was merely humoring him. Second, and perhaps more importantly, his tribute to Judge Gramling touched repeatedly on the Judge’s insistence in doing the right thing regardless of its popularity or public perception, both in his personal life and in the law. Continue reading “Spin Doctoring and the Judiciary”

The Judicial Process, Defined

Posted on Categories Judges & Judicial Process, Legal Education2 Comments on The Judicial Process, Defined

Last week I bemoaned the fact that those of us who do work in the judicial process area have no organizational home of our own. My aim in this post is to talk a little bit more about what I’ve got in mind when I talk about the judicial process as a field of learning. Probably the best way to do so is to describe the seminar I’m teaching this semester, “Judging and the Judicial Process,” which provides a pretty good first cut.

Our focus, as I put it in the course description, is “on courts as institutions and on judges as the primary actors within those institutions.” We started with what one might call the “standard” model of judging, which calls for judge-umpires to apply determinate law via formalist analysis. Then we pretty much blew it up, considering the work of the legal realists, public law theorists, political scientists, cognitive scientists, and so on. Continue reading “The Judicial Process, Defined”