Bans on court use of sharia/international law: Montana governor vetoes state’s version; claims bill is really “Sharia law ban” and would “open a dark chapter in our state’s history”

Montana’s governor has vetoed that state’s bill that would ban state court use of foreign or international law. Governor Steve Bullock’s veto message for SB 97 cites four main reasons.

  1. Despite protests that SB 97 was not driven by anti-Muslim sentiment, Bullock found the bill was driven by “Sharia law bans” tried in other states.
  2. Foreign law has infused the American legal system for centuries and in particular Montana’s legal system. The Governor here cites an 1871 law that “the common law of England, so far it is not repugnant to or inconsistent with the constitution of the United States or the constitution or laws of this state, is the rule of decision in all the courts of this state.” That law remains on the books as 1-1-109 MCA.
  3. The law itself is so broad that it would effectively make void and unenforceable almost all contracts that rely on a foreign legal system.
  4. There is no need for the bill since the U.S. and Montana constitutions already protect Montana residents, ” protections that our courts are sworn to uphold.”

The veto message concludes that with a “nation-wide surge in hate crimes” the bill “would open a dark chapter in our state’s history.”

 

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

Efforts to ban state courts from using or referencing foreign/international law in general, and sharia law in particular, continue apace with two legislatures approving versions while a bill in North Dakota was rejected.

Arkansas enacted a ban (HB 1041). An earlier version noted here would have re-declared that marriage in Arkansas was limited to a man and a woman, despite a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying the opposite. The amended/enacted HB 1041 provides

A court ruling or decision violates the public policy of this state and is void and unenforceable if the court bases its ruling or decision in the matter at issue in whole or in part on any foreign law, legal code, or system that does not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision one (1) or more of the following fundamental rights, liberties, and privileges granted under the Arkansas Constitution or the United States Constitution:
(1) The right to due process;
(2) The right to equal protection;
(3) Freedom of religion;
(4) Freedom of speech;
(5) Freedom of the press;
(6) The right to keep and bear arms;
(7) The right to privacy; or
(8) The right to marry, as “marriage” is defined by the Arkansas Constitution, to the extent that the definition of marriage does not conflict with federal law or a holding by the United States Supreme Court.

Meanwhile the Montana legislature approved a version (SB 97) that is currently pending on the governor’s desk that reads in operative part

A court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency ruling or decision violates the public policy of Montana and is void and unenforceable if the court, arbitration, tribunal, or administrative agency bases its ruling or decision on a law, legal code, or system that would not grant the parties affected by the ruling or decision the fundamental liberties, rights, and privileges granted under the Montana constitution or the United States constitution, including but not limited to due process, equal protection, freedom of religion, speech, or press, the right to keep and bear arms, and any right of privacy or marriage.

Finally, North Dakota’s House approved HB 1425 in February, but in late March the Senate rejected the proposal. At issue was the situation similar to Arkansas, namely, that the bill would have attempted to re-establish a ban on same-sex marriage. Senators objected to the marriage provision and amended it out, but also worried this was an “insult to our judges” and assumes North Dakota judges would violate the U.S. and North Dakota Constitutions without this bill.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: 19 bills in 14 states; Arkansas enacts, North Dakota rejects as an “insult to our judges”

New Mexico: constitutional amendment to give legislature more discretion to set appellate jurisdiction of courts by statute heading to ballot in 2018

A constitutional amendment discussed here to give the New Mexico legislature more discretion in setting the appellate jurisdiction of the state’s courts in general, and the District Court in particular, is heading to the 2018 ballot.

Currently the state’s constitution has three particular provisions when it comes to appeals

  1. District Court cases involving sentences of death or life imprisonment go directly to the state’s Supreme Court (Art. 6, Sec. 2).
  2. The District Courts themselves have “appellate jurisdiction of all cases originating in inferior courts and tribunals in their respective districts.” (Art. 6, Sec. 13)
  3. Finally, the constitution provides “Appeals shall be allowed in all cases from the final judgments and decisions of the probate courts and other inferior courts to the district courts, and in all such appeals, trial shall be had de novo unless otherwise provided by law.” (Art. 6, Sec. 27)

SJR 1 as approved by the House addresses items 2 and 3.

  1. The provision for death/life imprisonment cases going directly to the Supreme Court would remain. The Senate wanted remove the direct-to-the-Supreme-Court provision but the House struck that change.
  2. District Courts would not have appellate jurisdiction over “all” cases originating in inferior courts and tribunals in their respective district.
  3. The provision that probate/inferior court appeals go “to the district courts, and in all such appeals, trial shall be had de novo” would be struck.

SJR 1 now goes to the ballot in November 2018.

Washington: modified version of 2015 bill to create Tax Court refiled, this time with a constitutional amendment

A 2015 plan to create a Tax Court in Washington (discussed here) composed of sitting Court of Appeals judges was hobbled with concerns that the state’s constitution didn’t give the legislature the power to create such a court. Now the 2017 version of the plan is back, this time with a constitutional amendment and some changes.

SJR 8209 amends the state’s judiciary article to authorize the creation of a Tax Court and spells out in general its jurisdiction. It provides that decisions of the Tax Court would go directly to the state supreme court. Finally, it provides that the number, election, terms, and compensation of Tax Court judges would be left to the legislature.

SB 5866 fleshes out SJR 8209’s provisions and appears to be similar to the 2015 plan. It abolishes the existing State Board of Tax Appeals in favor of the new Tax Court.

The Court would be made up of two “departments”.

  • The Main Department would consist of 3 judges who may individually or as a panel hear tax appeals. All decisions of the Main Department would have to be rendered within 6 months of submission, although the court could extend this for good cause an additional 3 months.

Unlike the 2015 plan, which called for using Court of Appeals judges, the 2017 plan would have the 3 judges elected to the Court in their own right to 6 year terms. It appears the judges would be elected by Court of Appeals district.

The judges would have to have “at least five years’ experience as an attorney practicing in Washington state and local tax law.” A similar provision created some controversy in 2015 when it was questioned who would determine whether a person met this requirement.

  • The Commissioner Department would be for “cost-effective and informal” reviews and would include a voluntary mediation system. Commissioners would be appointed by the judges of the Main Department.

A hearing on the implementing legislation (SB 5866) is set for tomorrow (March 14) in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. A hearing on both the bill and constitutional amendment are set for March 16.

North Carolina: in last 24 hours House has advanced major changes to state’s judiciary; return to partisan trial court races now going to governor

The North Carolina House in the last 24 hours has adopted major changes to the state’s judiciary, already sending some to the governor’s desk.

HB 100 as amended by the Senate would return races for Superior and District Courts to partisan races. The legislature in a late 2016 special session had already returned that state’s appellate races back to partisan ones. The House, having agreed to a Senate amendment, will now send HB 100 to the governor. It is unclear what the reaction will be, since the governor was the lead author of the bill making Superior Court races nonpartisan in the first place.

HB 239 approved by the full House a few hours ago is a plan to reduce the state’s Court of Appeals from 15 judges down to 12. No judges would be forced out of office, instead when a seat becomes vacant for whatever reason “the seat is abolished.” It has been sent to the Senate.

HB 240 as discussed here removes the governor’s power to fill interim vacancies in District Court and transfers that power to the legislature itself. An amendment to have the Chief Judge of the District Court or Chief Justice (if there was no Chief Judge) make the pick instead was defeated. It has been ordered engrossed and will likely go to the Senate shortly.

HB 241 as discussed here removes the power of North Carolina governors to name Special Superior Court Judges (SSCJs) and transfers that power to the legislature itself. It has been sent to the Senate.

 

Adding to Texas’ unique court structure and organization: brand new Chancery trial and appellate court system re-introduced; Governor would select judges

A plan first introduced in 2015 and discussed here to create a Chancery Court system in Texas has been reintroduced to hear business cases. As I noted at the time, Texas already has one of the largest number of court types in the United States with 6 trial court types (Constitutional County, Statutory County, Statutory Probate, District, Justice of the Peace, and Municipal), 14 separate Courts of Appeal, including a unique two-courts-in-one-county (the 1st and 14th Court of Appeals both serve Houston) and two courts of last resort (civil: Supreme; criminal: Court of Criminal Appeals).

The latest iteration of the plan, introduced this year as HB 2594 would add not only a new trial court (Chancery made up of 7 judges) but a new intermediate appellate court (Court of Chancery Appeals made up of 7 judges). The Chancery Court would have concurrent jurisdiction with the state’s District Courts over 10 specified complex civil litigation actions or proceedings. The Court of Chancery Appeals would operate as effectively a specialized 15th intermediate appellate court for business cases only, something no other state has.

No state has a trial court whose sole purpose is to hear business or complex litigation cases. Even Delaware’s Chancery Court hears cases other the business ones such as disputes involving the purchase and sale of land and questions of title to real estate. Much more common is for the creation of special divisions of existing courts. For example, Delaware’s Superior Court makes use of a Complex Commercial Litigation Division.

Making things more unique is the method of judicial selection. Judges of both courts would not be subject to elections but instead chosen solely by the Governor from a list provided by a Chancery Court Nominations Advisory Council to which the Governor would name all the members. The Governor’s hand-picked Commission would have to provide 5 names for each court vacancy, however the Governor could ask for another 5 for a total of 10 names. Judges of the Court of Chancery Appeals would have to be existing Justices of a Court of Appeals. Judges so chosen would be subject to Senate confirmation.

There is also a fail-safe: in case this particular manner of judicial selection is found unconstitutional the court(s) would be staffed by sitting or retired justices who are appointed by the Supreme Court.

HB 2594 has been filed in the House but not yet assigned to a committee.

Texas: bill similar to Arizona “anti-commandeering” legislation would ban state appellate courts from enforcing federal court orders

A version of the Arizona bill that would ban state courts from enforcing federal court decisions has now been filed in the Texas House.

HB 2808 as filed amends Government Code Chapter 2113 by creating a new Subchapter F to prohibit a “state agency” from using any money in enforcing any “federal action.”

Under Gov. Code Ch. 2113 “state agency” includes “the supreme court, the court of criminal appeals, another entity in the judicial branch of state government with statewide authority, or a court of appeals.”

Moreover, HB 2808 specifically defines “federal action” to include “order of a federal court.”

Enforcement of the federal court order could only occur if permitted by the Texas legislature via the General Appropriations Act or some other state law.

HB 2808 has been filed but not yet assigned to a committee.