Omnibus bill week 2011: Iowa SB 326

I mentioned back in January that a 2010 omnibus bill to overhaul numerous provisions of law related to the Iowa judiciary was partially vetoed, but reintroduced this year (see here).

The bill, now known as SB 326 of 2011, has been the subject of some substantial legislative ping-pong between the two chambers.

Senate

Originally, SB 326’s provisions included:

Filling vacancies – Grants authority to the chief justice to delay the nomination of a Supreme Court justice, court of appeals judge, district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge magistrate for budgetary reasons. Grants authority to delay nomination for magistrates with certain limits.

Judicial allocation – Authorizes chief justice to apportion a trial judge vacancy to another judicial election district upon finding a substantial disparity exists in the allocation of judgeships and judicial workload between judicial election districts and a majority of the judicial council approves the apportionment. Requires state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula in addition to the other criteria already listed in statute. Permits the chief judge to assign a magistrate to hold court outside of the magistrate’s county of appointment for the orderly administration of justice.

Residence – Requires district associate judge reside in the judicial election district in which he or she serves (currently must reside in county). Allows a magistrate to be a resident of a county contiguous to the county of appointment during the magistrate’s term of office.

Terms – Specifies that a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a one-year term and a succeeding one-year term at the discretion of the Supreme Court. Currently, a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a two-year term at the discretion of the Supreme Court.

Senate amendments deleted the requirement that the state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula but added a provision limiting the chief justice’s power to delay filling vacancies to 1 year per vacancy and no more than 8 delayed vacancies at any given time. The Senate adopted the entire bill on a 50-0 vote.

House

Several House members who had earlier vowed to impeach members of the Supreme Court and end merit selection for the Court of Appeals, attempted to add an amendment to SB 326 that would have also ended merit selection for the Court of Appeals. Unlike in Kansas, where such an attempt to add an amendment ending merit selection was ruled germane to an unrelated bill, this effort was ruled not germane by the House Speaker. Undaunted, the sponsor asked for unanimous consent to allow the amendment. When that failed, he moved to suspend the rules and allow for the adoption of the amendment. That effort failed on a 6-89 vote. For additional details, check out this post from Gavel Grab.

The House did, however, adopt two amendments.

  • The first matched HB 242 and would require the state’s governor appoint at least one district judicial nominating commission member from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners. Given that the commissions are five member panels, and only Judicial District 7 is a 5-county district, this has the effect of prohibiting any district nominating commission from having more than two members from the same county.
  • The second requires all commission members chosen by the governor to serve staggered terms.

The House approved its version, with the House amendments, 93-2. The two House members voting against (Reps. Alons & Shaw) were among the four leaders of the effort to impeach the Supreme Court justices and had put forth the amendment to end merit selection for the Court of Appeals noted above.

Back to Senate

The Senate accepted the House amendments on April 11, but added one of its own. Under existing law, “no more than a simple majority” of district judicial nominating commission members appointed “shall be of the same gender.” The latest senate amendment would change the wording to “A simple majority of the commissioners appointed shall be of the same gender.”

Back to House

This latest version of SB 326 was sent back to the House on April 11.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Welcome New York Times readers!

This post has been updated. Click here.

In the March update (located here) there were 42 bills introduced in 2011 in 20 states seeking to ban court use of sharia/international law. That number is now up to 44 bills in 21 states.

  • Arizona’s “new” bill was really a strike-all amendment to a completely unrelated bill HB 2064. The resulting bill was approved April 7 and is currently sitting on Governor Jan Brewer’s desk.
  • North Carolina HB 640 was introduced April 5 and is currently pending in the House Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee C.

In addition to Arizona, bills in 6 other states advanced out of their committees or chambers, including Alabama SB 61 and SB 62, Alaska HB 88,  Florida SB 1294, Kansas HB 2087, Missouri HB 708, and Oklahoma HB 1552. Additionally, hearings were conducted in Texas and Missouri. All 2011 activity is in bold below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law advance in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma

Mid-session update: 42 bills in 20 states seek to ban court use of sharia/international law (with list and links)

Welcome ABA Journal readers! This post has been updated, here.

We are about half way through the 2011 state legislative season and so far there have been 42 bills in 2011 to ban or otherwise restrict court references or use to sharia/international law.

Prior 2011 posts on the subject can be found here, here, and here.

Below is an update on the current (as of 3/14/11) status of such efforts. Hearings coming up this week include Alaska HB 88, Missouri HB 708, Missouri SB 308, and Nebraska LB 647.

Interestingly, some of the most recently filed bills (Iowa HB 489 filed March 2;  Maine HB 811 filed March 15; West Virginia HB 3220 filed February 21) now provide that foreign law cannot be the “primary factor which a court…shall consider”.

Continue reading Mid-session update: 42 bills in 20 states seek to ban court use of sharia/international law (with list and links)

In last seven days, bills to tweak, modify, or end merit selection advance in the IA House, AZ Senate, and OK Senate

Merit selection has been the focus of an exceptionally large number of bills this legislative year, and a even more surprising number have advanced in their respective chambers in the last seven days. The scope of the bills range from tweaks, to modifications, to outright abandonment of merit selection.

Tweaks

Iowa’s HB 242, requires the state’s governor appoint at least one district judicial nominating commission member from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners. Given that the commissions are five member panels, and only Judicial District 7 is a 5-county district, this has the effect of prohibiting any district nominating commission from having more that two members from the same county. It was approved on March 7, having bypassed any committee hearings, on a 98-0 vote.

Modifications

Arizona SCR 1040 substantially rewrites, but does not end, the state’s merit selection system:

  1. Increases to 400,000 the population requirement for a county to have merit selection for judges (currently 250,000).
  2. Increases supreme court and superior court terms to 8 years.
  3. Strips state bar’s power to fill certain vacancies on judicial nominating commissions. Requires instead state bar submit 3 names for each state-bar vacancy on commission for governor’s approval and that a majority of the 3 must be the same political party as governor.
  4. Requires attorney-members of commissions have been member of bar at least five years.
  5. Removes requirement that governor’s appointments to commission be confirmed by senate.
  6. Provides of 13 members of appellate commission, none may be currently serving as a judge, not more than two of the members may be attorneys, not more than one member may be a retired judge, not more than nine members may be members of the same political party, and not more than six members may be residents of the same county.
  7. Provides supreme court *must* adopt any rules that the commissions vote for themselves, so long as they are lawful.
  8. Expands number of names to be submitted to governor for a vacancy from 3 to 6. If fewer than 6 people apply, all eligible names must be submitted
  9. Subjects all those selected by governor to senate confirmation.
  10. Ends retention elections. Provides that at end of term governor may reappoint and senate may reconfirm judge.

SCR 1040 was approved March 8 by the Senate on 19-11 vote.

Oklahoma SB 621 requires any appointment or reappointment by the Governor to fill a Judicial Office be confirmed by a majority of the Senate. SB 621 was approved March 8 by the Senate on 30-14 vote.

End Merit Selection

Oklahoma SJR 36 repeals Section 3 of Article VII-B of the Oklahoma Constitution establishing the Judicial Nominating Commission. IT amends Section 4 of Article VII-B dealing with the Judicial Nominating Commission and replaces with provisions allowing the governor, upon a judicial vacancy, to chose anyone subject to Senate confirmation.  If the Senate is not in session when an appointment is made, the Governor may call the Senate into special session no more than once per quarter to advise and consent on any such appointments.

SJR 36 was approved earlier this evening (March 9) on a 32-15 vote.

 

Unable to change merit selection for Supreme Court, Iowa legislators look to end it for Court of Appeals

I mentioned last week a statutory effort to end merit selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals. I noted at the time that these intermediate appellate courts, because they are often created by statute, are also able to have their selection methods changed by statute alone (vs. a constitutional amendment).This week, it is Iowa, likely in partial response to anger and angst over the state’s supreme court ruling in favor of same sex marriage several years ago.

The Iowa Constitution guarantees merit selection for that court (and the lower, District Court), and efforts have been introduced to end that system (HJR 12 and SJR 13). Such efforts would require two consecutive legislatures to approve it (majority vote only), plus approval at the ballot box. Thus, a change in the system would take years and a great deal of effort. The Court of Appeals, because it relies on a mere statute (Iowa Code 46.12 and 46.14A) can have its selection system changed in a matter of weeks during a single legislative session.

Enter HB 429 of 2011 which would end merit selection for the court and replace it with gubernatorial nomination and senate confirmation. Like the Kansas proposal, it would not do away with retention elections, however.

The bill is currently pending before the House Judiciary Committee.

Despite being under threat of impeachment, Iowa Chief Justice gives State of the Judiciary

The National Center for State Courts has an archive of 2011, 2010, and previous years State of the Judiciary addresses located here.

Despite active efforts by members of the Iowa House impeach him, Chief Justice Mark Cady presented the State of the Judiciary earlier today to a joint convention of the legislature pursuant to a resolution (HCR 3 of 2011) passed by both chambers. HCR 3 noted that the Chief Justice’s report is statutorily based. Iowa Code 602.1207 provides:

The chief justice shall communicate the condition of the judicial branch by message to each general assembly, and may recommend matters the chief justice deems appropriate.

Highlights of the Chief Justice’s speech (full text here) included:

The story of our ability to deliver justice to Iowans over the decades—the story of our people—shows our job will be done regardless of the cards we are dealt. But, there is no doubt our mission, more and more, is becoming harder and harder to achieve. I too fear, as Kim Glock does, that the deep cuts in our resources are beginning to cause damage to our system of justice. Let me explain beginning with what I observe to be a decline in access to justice.

Access to Justice
Iowans cannot have the hope of justice without having access to justice. The grim reality is that more and more Iowans with legal problems are forced to wait too long for their day in court. These problems are troublesome to litigants and shake people’s confidence in our government. These problems result from a decade of fiscal austerity coupled with Iowans’ growing demands for court services…Today, Iowa’s court system operates with a smaller workforce than it had in 1987. In contrast, over the same period, the total number of legal actions brought by Iowans and Iowa businesses has nearly doubled. In short, Iowa’s courts are overrun with work, and Iowans are paying the price with reduced access to justice.

EDMS and Civil Justice Reform
We are testing a system for electronic filing and retrieval of documents. This system, which we call EDMS, expands access to justice beyond the courthouse walls. It enables litigants, lawyers, and others to file and access court records online, at anytime, night and day. It saves Iowans the cost and inconvenience of traveling to the courthouse to conduct their business. It gives judges access to records as soon as they are filed. If everything goes as planned and we have sufficient resources to move ahead, we should have EDMS fully implemented in five or six years.

Reasons to Bolster Court Funding
The recession has placed additional demands on our courts. In the past three years, mortgage foreclosure cases filed in Iowa have increased 17%, debt collection cases have increased 15%, child-in-need-of-assistance cases have increased 23%, and adult civil commitment cases have increased 19%. These legal actions may have a life-altering effect on the Iowans involved. This is not the time to give them ration cards for justice…We appreciate the continued need for all of government, including the judicial branch, to “share the pain.” However, the courts are already stretched painfully thin. I hope we can all agree that Iowans deserve more access to justice than they have now. Our fiscal year 2012 budget request reflects a modest three-year plan to improve Iowans’ access to justice. We ask you to give it serious consideration.

Varnum
When the Iowa Supreme Court decided the Varnum v. Brien case on April 3, 2009, we understood it would receive great attention and be subject to much scrutiny. We worked hard to author a written decision to fully explain our reasoning to all Iowans, and we understand how Iowans could reach differing opinions about this decision…First, I hope to help us move forward by addressing the concerns some Iowans have about our system for selecting judges.

Merit Selection Fosters Fair and Impartial Courts

Importantly, the Iowa Constitution requires that all commission members be chosen “without regard to political affiliation.” Likewise, the law specifically requires the commissioners to choose nominees “without regard to political affiliation.”

Don Decker, a Ft. Dodge businessman and long-time Republican, who served on the state judicial nominating commission in the mid-1990s, recently told me that, when it came to selecting a slate of nominees for a judicial position, he “rooted for the home team” but always voted for the most qualified applicants regardless of their party affiliation. This honest assessment captures the reason our process has worked so well for so long.

Building Public Confidence in Commissions: Enhancements
In addition to opening interviews to the public, we recommend that the state and district nominating commissions: adopt uniform rules of procedure, adopt a code of ethics, and adopt procedures for the release of more information to the public.

Principle #1: Courts Serve the People by Serving the Rule of Law
The will of the people followed by courts is the will expressed in our law as constrained by the written principles in the constitution. If this were any other way, “why have a constitution?”…Chief Justice William Rehnquist called the independence that allows judges to serve the law “the crown jewel of our system of justice.” I hope we can go forward with the same understanding.

Principle #2: Upholding the Constitution is the Most Important Role of Courts
Upholding the constitution is the most important function of courts. The duty of courts to review the constitutionality of laws is known as judicial review and is one of our most basic responsibilities.

In 1849, the Iowa Supreme Court issued its first decision that protected the constitutional rights of an Iowan by invalidating a statute enacted by the legislature. In this case, the court stated it was “a settled principle” in this country that courts have the power, “as a matter of right and duty, to declare every act of the legislature made in violation of the constitution, or any provision of it, null and void.” This is the very duty the court exercised in the Varnum decision.

As far back as 1883, the Iowa Supreme Court made it clear that even unpopular rulings could not simply be suspended in time to await any future legislative action. In its decision, the court said that, if courts could be coerced by popular majorities to disregard the constitution any point in time, “constitutions would become mere ropes of sand and there would be an end of . . . constitutional freedom.”

Promoting Understanding about the Work of Courts
Lastly, it is my hope that we can move forward with a shared commitment for a greater understanding of our courts and their important role in maintaining our democracy. This understanding can best be achieved by making our courts even more transparent.

Up until a year ago, the [Iowa Courts] website also provided a video cast of supreme court proceedings, but this procedure was a victim of the budget cuts. Nevertheless, we can do more to open the work of the courts to the people. So today I’m pleased to announce the Iowa Supreme Court plans to hold some of its oral arguments in communities across Iowa. This will allow interested citizens an opportunity to watch the court proceedings, and the proceedings can be used as a teaching tool for our youth.

Conclusion: Let Us Go Forward with a New Understanding
So, let us go forward with a new understanding—a new understanding of the courts and a new understanding of the direction that will lead to a better and brighter future, for all Iowans…So, let me end by asking all branches of government, and all people, to go forward, together, to transform the promise given to us into our proud legacy. The story that is not yet told is our story. Let us go forward to write our untold story with a greater understanding of ourselves, and all Iowans.

IA: Judicial overhaul bill, vetoed in 2010, resubmitted in 2011

With ongoing efforts in Iowa to  impeach the remaining 4 justices on the state’s supreme court (details here), a more administrative judicial struggle is winding its way back through the legislature

In 2010, SB 2343 was approve by the legislature. The bill had several elements, including:

  • Filling vacancies – Grants authority to the chief justice to delay the nomination of a supreme court justice, court of appeals judge, district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge magistrate for budgetary reasons up to one year. Grants authority to delay nomination for magistrates with certain limits.
  • Terms – Specifies that a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a one-year term and a succeeding one-year term at the discretion of the supreme court. Currently, a senior judge, upon attaining the age of 78, may serve a two-year term at the discretion of the supreme court.
  • Judicial allocation – Authorizes chief justice to apportion a trial judge vacancy to another judicial election district upon finding a substantial disparity exists in the allocation of judgeships and judicial workload between judicial election districts and a majority of the judicial council approves the apportionment. Requires state court administrator apportion magistrates throughout the state using a case-related workload formula in addition to the other criteria already listed in statute. Permits the chief judge to assign a magistrate to hold court outside of the magistrate’s county of appointment for the orderly administration of justice.
  • Residence – Requires district associate judge reside *in the judicial election district* in which he or she serves (currently must reside in county). Allows a magistrate to be a resident of a county contiguous to the county of appointment during the magistrate’s term of office.

Then-Governor Chester Culver vetoed the bill. In his veto letter, Governor Culver cited two portions of the bill he disapproved of:

  1. a requirement that only one district judicial nominating commission member may be appointed from each county unless there are fewer counties than commissioners and
  2. the sections allowing the Chief Justice to delay the appointment of judges for up to one year.

In 2011, with Terry Branstad now set to be sworn in as Governor next week, the bill is being redrafted and set for reintroduction (current draft is D. 1281). Governor Culver’s first objection (judicial nominating commission member allocation) is removed however  the second (chief justice may delay filling judicial vacancies) is in the current draft. Additionally, a section that was dropped from the original has been re-added.

  • Selection – Permits chief judge of judicial district to appoint clerk of court and remove clerk for cause after consultation with other judges (currently, clerk is appointed and removed by a majority vote of all district judges in district)

It is unclear if the new bill will face a legislature as-receptive as the one in 2010 and/or a governor less veto-prone