28 November 2014

California Governor Criticized for Judical Appointments

California's Governor Jerry Brown has now appointed three judges to the California Supreme Court, and as this editorial at SFGate notes, none of them have judicial experience. The writer of the editorial thinks that's a problem. Read the rest of it to find out why.

24 November 2014

Divided Government and the Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

By now, students in all three of my courses are familiar with how vacancies on the United States Supreme Court are filled. And those of my students who have been paying attention to developments in the United States realize that Republicans will soon be taking control of the United States Senate, the body charged with approving the President's nominees to the Supreme Court. Lyle Denniston has an interesting post on the National Constitution Center website explaining who likely it would for a nominee of President Obama's to get through the hostile Senate.

22 November 2014

How Presidents Have Used Their Veto Power

While we have not expressly discussed the President's veto power in my courses this semester, this power does fit into the general discussion we have had concerning American government, and at least someone in one of my courses was curious enough about this power to ask whether the President can exercise this power for any reason, or only when he feels the bill he is being asked to sign violates the Constitution. I recently came across a short and informative blog post on the National Constitution Center's blog that anyone interested in the President's veto power should read.

14 November 2014

Nevada Gets an Appeals Court

The AP reports that Nevada is joining the 40 other states that have an intermediate level appeals court. To be honest, I'm amazed there are that many states without an appeals court. Anyway, the article points out why not having an intermediate level appeals court can cause problems:
That meant that every appeal from each of the state's 82 district courts - death penalty convictions, medical malpractice judgments, prison food complaints, administrative hearing reviews, driver's license revocations - had to be heard by a very busy seven-member Nevada Supreme Court.
The article goes on to note that last year the Supreme Court rendered about 2,300 rulings!

13 November 2014

Americans Don't Trust Their Courts

At least that is what Francis Barry argues in a recent Bloomberg News piece. Barry argues that the increasing number of amendments to state constitutions show a growing distrust of the judiciary. To understand why, give this short piece a read.

10 November 2014

Time for a change?

A recent Billings Gazette editorial points out the problems with open elections for judges in this era of outside groups spending unlimited money on trying to influence elections. The editorial also points out two other ways that states select judges, which might be more appropriate for Montana. The editorial is short and very informative.

06 November 2014

Judge Retains Seat

From the Associated Press: a day after elections an Illinois Supreme Court Justice appears to have retained his seat. This is a wonderful opportunity to review how some judges in the United States are selected. Here is what the AP had to say:
ST. LOUIS — An Illinois Supreme Court justice targeted for ouster by plaintiffs' attorneys who spent more than $1 million publicly characterizing him as partial to corporate interests appears to have retained his seat, which he won a decade ago in a race that set national spending records.
With more than 99 percent of Tuesday's votes counted, Lloyd Karmeier finished less than 1 percentage point above the 60 percent threshold he needed for retention. Several of the 37 southernmost Illinois counties making up Karmeier's district still were counting absentee and provisional ballots Wednesday.
Just from these two paragraphs we can tell a few things about how Supreme Court Justices are keep their seats in Illinois. While we cannot tell how they are actually selected (whether the governor does the selecting or some kind of committee), we can tell that each Justice must face a retention vote, and in order to survive the vote the judge must obtain a super majority of 60% of the vote. We can also tell that Justices on the Illinois Supreme Court apparently represent only a part of the state. This likely is meant to ensure that the Court is made up of Justices from throughout the entire state.

To review: some judges must face retention votes when their term expires. A retention vote is nothing more than having the name of the judge on the ballot with a "Yes" or "No" answer to the question of whether the judge should be retained. In Illinois a judge must get 60% yes votes in order to keep his or her seat. Remember, not all retention votes run this way. Each state can have their own system.

05 November 2014

Studying Law is Easy . . .

At least that is what Bundesgerichtshof Judge Thomas Fischer recently told Die Zeit. Fischer makes numerous observations about the shortcomings of the German legal education (whether they are fair or not, I will not judge) and more importantly, he draws a comparison to the study of law in common law countries:
ZEIT Campus: Was fehlt den Absolventen?
Fischer: Meistens die Softskills, also die sozialpsychologischen Fähigkeiten. Die werden fast nicht gelehrt: Verhandlungskompetenz erwirbt man im Studium nicht, den meisten mangelt es auch an kommunikativer Sorgfalt.
ZEIT Campus: Warum wäre das wichtig?
Fischer: Jura ist eine Wissenschaft, die sich fast ausschließlich mit Sprache beschäftigt. Sie müssen im Beruf Reden halten, Positionen verteidigen, Konfliktsituationen lösen und vor allem Empathie für fremde Personen haben.
ZEIT Campus: Kann man das an der Uni lernen?
Fischer: Im angloamerikanischen Raum fordern Professoren die Studenten ständig auf, ihre Meinung zu sagen und sich mit Gegenpositionen auseinanderzusetzen. Sie sind von Anfang an in einem System, das sie in die Lage versetzt, juristische Berufe auszuüben.
The rest of the interview is well worth a read. His views on the Repetitorien (he refers to it as a "sinnloser Aufwand") and why making big money working for a large law firm might not be worth it are amusing. The comments made by readers are rather amusing as well.