Bans on court use of sharia/international law: Enacted in Mississippi; activity in 6 other states; WV considered ban on court use of “karma”

2015 saw some 32 pieces of legislation introduced in 17 states to ban or limit the use by state courts of foreign or international law. Of these, Mississippi saw after 5+ years of trying the enactment of such a ban. HB 177 provides in operative part that

A court, arbitrator, administrative agency or other adjudicative, mediation or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed to a natural person by the United States Constitution or the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

Notable regarding many of these bills is the continued focus on specifically banning the use by state courts of sharia law (Mississippi HB 493, HB 557, HB 622, HB 1216; Oregon SB 176, South Carolina HB 3521, and West Virginia HB 2994). The specific targeting of sharia was held as unconstitutional in a decision by the Tenth Circuit in 2012 which upheld striking down such a sharia-specific constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters in 2010. West Virginia HB 2994 is of particular note here in terms of not just targeting sharia, but “Canon law, Halacha and Karma”, language almost identical to a bill introduced in Arizona 2010 and 2011 and discussed here.

Details on the legislation introduced in 2015 below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: Enacted in Mississippi; activity in 6 other states; WV considered ban on court use of “karma”

Georgia: Judicial omnibus bill includes 3 new Court of Appeals judges, salary increases, judicial compensation commission

Before ending session on April 2 the Georgia legislature approved and sent on to the Governor (on April 14) a bill that modified several parts of Georgia’s judiciary.

HB 279 had originally included provisions regarding judicial salaries. The amended version on its way to the governor now includes the following:

Part I

  • The Court of Appeals is expanded from 12 to 15 judges. The three new judges are to be appointed by the governor for their initial terms and face voters in 2018.
  • Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges residing more than 50 miles from the judicial building in Atlanta will receive same daily expense allowance as members of the General Assembly.
  • Judges assigned to Drug Court, Mental Health Court, or Veterans Court divisions will receive a $6,000 “annual accountability court supplement” from the state via The Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia.
  • Counties are not permitted to give more than a $50,000 in the form of a county salary supplements
  • Base state statutory salaries for judgesare increased
    • Supreme Court $139,418 to $175,600
    • Court of Appeals $138,556 to $174,500
    • Superior Court $99,862 to $126,265

Part II

  • Changes to Western Circuit

Part III

  • Creation of Judicial, District Attorney, and Circuit Public Defender Compensation Commission attached to the Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission. Authorization for the commission would be in place until 2020.
  • Compensation Commission has only the power to advise and recommend changes related to salaries and “efficient use of resources and caseload balance of the justice system”
  • Compensation Commission to be made up of 5 voting members
  1. Citizen member chosen by Governor
  2. Citizen member with experience in executive compensation and who is a non-attorney chosen by Governor
  3. Current or retired judge chosen by Chief Justice
  4. Non-attorney chosen by Lt. Governor
  5. Non-attorney chosen by House Speaker
    Chair of Senate Appropriations Committee (non-voting ex officio)
    Chair of House Appropriations Committee (non voting ex officio)
  • Compensation Commission to “evaluate and consider”
    1. Whether compensation drawing highly qualified, diverse attorneys to become judges, districts attorneys, or circuit public defenders
    2. Whether county supplements for judges, districts attorneys, or circuit public defenders is enough
    3. “The caseload demands of judicial officers, prosecuting attorneys, and public defenders and the allocation of such officials, including staffing resources and jurisdictional structure.”
    4. Skill/experience need for judges, districts attorneys, or circuit public defenders
    5. Time required for judges, districts attorneys, or circuit public defenders
    6. Value of “compensable service” by reference to other states and federal government
    7. Value of “comparable service” in private sector
    8. Compensation of attorneys in private sector
    9. Consumer Price Index changes
    10. Overall compensation received by other public officials and employees
    11. Any other factors normally taken into consideration


Georgia: Bill would designate Municipal Courts courts of record, set minimum powers/standards

Most states that have municipal courts specify these are not “courts of record”. The judges may not wear robes and the proceedings are often not recorded. Georgia may change this practice in that state under SB 205 as introduced last week. In addition to providing the municipal court must be a court of record, the bill sets out minimum requirements as to powers/structure. These courts shall:

  • have a seal
  • have the power to fine and imprison;
  • have the power to grant a new trial on legal grounds
  • exercise court functions independently of the judge
  • proceed according to the course of common law
  • have the acts and judicial proceedings enrolled for a perpetual memorial and testimony, which rolls are designated as the record of the court and are of such high and super-eminent authority that their truth shall not be called into question

SB 205 has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Arizona: new plan to stack supreme court introduced and clears committee in hours; over a dozen efforts to change supreme court composition in last decade

A plan to expand the Arizona Supreme Court from 5 to 7 members was added at the last minute to a bill in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday. HB 2076 as introduced had nothing to do with the state’s supreme court. An amendment to that bill however deleted the bill’s contents and replaced it with an expansion of the Supreme Court from 5 to 7 members. It was approved on a 4-2 party-line vote.

This isn’t the first time an effort with little to no notice has been made to expand the Arizona Supreme Court. In 2013 it was the Senate Judiciary Committee that tried to advance such a proposal that was ultimately rejected when the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court herself appeared in the committee and explained the Supreme Court was handling its case disposition time handily. The main sponsor countered that “I just thought that I might give the opportunity for two additional attorneys to sit on the supreme court.”

This marks over a dozen instances in the last several years of members of the legislature seeking to increase, or in some cases reduce, the size of their state supreme court/court of last resort. Details below the fold.

Continue reading Arizona: new plan to stack supreme court introduced and clears committee in hours; over a dozen efforts to change supreme court composition in last decade

Georgia: judges related within 6 degrees of party must recuse; reducing down to 3 degrees

There’s a sociological theory that everyone is within “six degrees of separation” to every other person on the planet. A 1933 Georgia law (codified now as O.C.G.A. § 15-1-8 for judges; similar statutes exist for jurors) has been testing that theory, prohibiting judges “related by consanguinity or affinity within the sixth degree” from participating in cases for 80 years.

Under HB 207 introduced last week, however, the relationship would have to be closer, down to a third degree relative. This appears to be the first attempt to alter the sixth-degree rule in decades.

Interesting note: several other state have similar sixth degree statutes on the books (Kansas § 22-3410; New York Judiciary Law § 14; South Carolina § 14-1-130; Tennessee (special judges) § 17-2-101)

HB 207 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.




Bans on court use of sharia/international law: new year means two dozen new bills

The new legislative year means a new wave of legislation that purport to ban the use by state courts of international or foreign law in general and sharia law in particular. In some instances, such as Oregon, this legislation has never previously been introduced in prior years.

The general pattern of the legislation this year has been to avoid the use of the word “sharia”, although 4 bills continue to specifically use the term. This appears to be done primarily in light of a federal court decision striking down a 2010 Oklahoma constitutional amendment that had used the word as being discriminatory for picking on sharia, and by extension Islam, in particular a decision upheld by the Tenth Circuit in 2012 and subsequent permanent injunction issued in August 2013.

The other aspect has been to specify that the bill, if enacted, would not apply to:

  1. harm or affect the right to contract
  2. corporations
  3. laws and court decisions of Native American tribes
  4. ecclesiastical matters/religious organizations

So far the bills have moved in Indiana (Senate) and Mississippi (House), while the Virginia version was withdrawn by the sponsor.

Details below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: new year means two dozen new bills

Georgia Legislative Year in Review: Court Tech Committee, judges carrying guns into courthouses, veterans courts, filing false liens on judges


HB 60 Expands types of active and retired judges who may carry firearms in courthouses.

HB 215 Requires clerk of court note date and time of receipt of documents filed. For superior court clerk offices with fewer than two employees, allows office to be open from at least 8am to noon and then from 1pm to 5 pm (currently must be continuously open 9-5).

HB 477 Provides for transfer of service credit from the Georgia Judicial Retirement System to the Employees’ Retirement System of Georgia.

HB 580 Provides for additional or partial retirement benefits under Superior Court Clerks’ Retirement Fund. Makes other changes regarding spousal benefits.

HB 601 Restricts and repeals an automatic cost-of-living benefit increase of retirement benefits under Judges of the Probate Courts Retirement Fund. Provides for a portion of fines and forfeited bonds for criminal, quasi-criminal, and civil cases for violating state statutes or traffic laws be paid to the fund.

HB 985 Prohibits filing false liens on judges and other public officials.

HB 1000 Creates setoff debt collection against state income tax refunds for debts owed to political subdivisions and courts.

SB 320 Creates veterans court divisions in any court with criminal jurisdiction.

SB 341 Allows probate clerks who are attorneys for at least 5 years to exercise power of probate judge in uncontested matters.

SB 386 Prohibits the public disclosure of social security numbers, taxpayer identification numbers, and financial account numbers in court documents. Provides exception for filings dealing with garnishment, civil forfeiture, official records of another court, tribunal, or agency, probate court filings, and anything filed under seal as specified.

Adopted (no further approvals required)

SR 986 Creates Senate Unified Courts Technology Study Committee to examine technologies used in the courts.

Georgia: Senate Unified Courts Technology Study Committee meets today

I mentioned last spring the Georgia Senate had approved creation of a Unified Courts Technology Study Committee (SR 986) made up of 5 Senators (Judiciary Committee chair + 4) and 2 individuals chosen by the Chief Justice to report back by December 1, 2014 on “the cost and feasibility of a significant investment in state and local information technology systems, the cost of training state and local employees on new systems and the feasibility of using add-on fees to fund system upgrades.” The system upgrades “should be based on mandatory state-wide standards for criminal, civil, and domestic relations data which allow all justice system agencies to share data efficiently…”

The Study Committee held a hearing earlier today that examined several areas. Per its agenda these included issues of governance, funding, Justice Data Exchange, and related concepts.


Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 1

Most states have at least 2 levels of trial court, with a civil jurisdiction amount dividing them. For example a $1,000 civil case may be filed in the limited jurisdiction court, but a $100,000 case may only be permitted in the general jurisdiction court. Changes to this threshold can change the way courts are managed or function as caseloads and revenues rise/fall as a result. This series examines the existing thresholds and the legislative efforts to change them over the last decade. For a listing of all current civil jurisdiction thresholds, click here.

Alabama to Georgia below the fold.
Continue reading Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 1

Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 1

Most state constitutions grant their court of last resort, typically called the “supreme court”, or their judicial council some degree of rulemaking authority. My colleagues here at the National Center have a listing of all such provisions here. In the last several years, however, legislatures have made efforts to amend or alter those provisions. This series will examine all such efforts and how they have fared.

Alabama to Georgia below the fold.

Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 1