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”

Four states debate redrawing judicial districts/circuits: should it be a question of caseload? Population? Who should be on the commissions?

This year marks a dramatic uptick in the number of states that are examining the possibility of redrawing their judicial circuits/districts. How states plan on doing this and whether the districts should be redrawn focused on population or court workload are key questions at play.


Section 110 (appellate) and Sections 112 (trial) of the Kentucky constitution contend with the issue of judicial districts. In particular redrawing trial districts puts the Supreme Court into the mix.

The Circuit Court districts existing on the effective date of this amendment to the Constitution shall continue under the name “Judicial Circuits,” the General Assembly having power upon certification of the necessity therefor by the Supreme Court to reduce, increase or rearrange the judicial districts.

SB 49 adds to this by directing the Supreme Court submit a “suggested plan of correction” for circuit/district lines or the reallocation of judgeships. Interestingly, the plan calls for the use of two different criteria to be used

  • Appellate districts: “population only”
  • Trial districts/circuits: “populations or caseloads”

Moreover, SB 49 retains the policy that the General Assembly ultimately makes the decision to draw the lines; this a marked difference as compared to a 2013 constitutional amendment (HB 391) that would have let the Chief Justice redraw the lines as workload required.

SB 49 was approved 31-1-1 in the Senate and approved by the House State Government Committee; it is currently pending on the House floor.


HB 430 creates a judicial redistricting commission to recommend changes to district lines for the 2017 legislature. The commission would be made up of 7 members

  • 1 House or Senate member chosen jointly by majority leaders
  • 1 House or Senate member chosen jointly by minority leaders
  • 2 District Court Judges chosen by Chief Justice
  • 1 District Court Clerk chosen by clerk’s association
  • 1 County Commissioner chosen by counties association
  • 1 member of bar chosen by Bar President

In addition to a catchall provision, the commission would examine judicial redistricting using 6 factors

  1. population of the judicial districts
  2. judicial district’s weighted caseload as determined by judicial workload studies
  3. relative proportions of civil, criminal, juvenile, and family law cases
  4. extent to which special masters, alternative dispute resolution techniques, and other measures have been used
  5. distances in highway miles between county seats in existing judicial districts and any judicial districts that may be proposed by the commission
  6. impact on counties of any changes proposed in the judicial districts

HB 430 was narrowly approved by the full Montana House on a 51-49 vote on 2nd Reading on March 23. It was ultimately approved by the full House on a 54-46 vote yesterday (March 24) and is awaiting transmission to the Senate.

North Carolina

SB 226 directs the Legislative Research Commission (made up entirely of legislators) to study the state’s current trial court districts. The criteria do not mention population, instead focus on three others

  • improve the efficiency of the court system
  • provide for improved administration
  • better balance the caseloads in the various districts

SB 226 is currently in the Senate Rules Committee.


HB 144 was to be a bill about efiling in Tennessee courts. As amended in its entirety yesterday (March 24) it now creates a new way for Tennessee to redraw its judicial district lines. Amendment 1 to HB 144 directs the creation of a task force to recommend new judicial district lines and a joint House/Senate committee to review the proposal.

The Advisory Task Force to Review the Composition of Tennessee’s Current Judicial Districts would be made up of 13 members chosen by the House Speaker (6), Senate Speaker (6), and a joint appointment (1). The members would have to consist of

  • 3 current trial court judges, one from each grand division in the state
  • 3 current district attorneys, one from each grand division in the state
  • 3 current public defenders, one from each grand division in the state
  • 4 other members to be determined by speakers

There is no direction regarding the criteria for the new lines, other than

  • reasonable and timely access to Tennessee’s circuit, chancery, and criminal courts
  • promote the efficient utilization of publicly-funded resources allocated for the courts

The Task Force would make its report to a new Joint Legislative Committee on Judicial Redistricting made up of 5 House and 5 Senate members. The Joint Legislative Committee would remain a permanent feature in law being reconstituted every 8 years; the Advisory Task Force would have to be reenacted each time.

HB 114 as amended was approved yesterday (March 24) by the House Civil Justice Committee and referred to the House Finance, Ways & Means Committee.

Kentucky: Senate committee passes Judicial Compensation Commission; drops House plan to have Commission examine Legislature’s salaries too

The Kentucky Senate State & Local Government Committee yesterday gave its approval to HB 469, a plan to create a Citizens’ Commission on Judicial Compensation. The Senate committee did, however, one key change compared to the version approved 98-0 by the House last week. The House version of the Commission would have made recommendations for both judicial and legislative compensation; the Senate version focuses exclusively on judges.

Moreover, and perhaps most critically, is the question of whether the Commission’s recommendation becomes law/binding unless overridden by the legislature. Both the House and Senate version include language that makes the recommendation take effect unless the legislature picks different compensation levels.

Unless expressly notwithstood in a branch budget enacted in the year following the submission of the branch budget recommendation, the commission’s salary recommendations shall constitute the authorized salary for the offices in which compensation recommendations have been made, and shall take effect on July 1 of the year following the year in which the budget request was submitted.

The Commission would be required to examine at least 9 specific items before making its recommendation for judicial compensation.

  1. The overall economic climate in the Commonwealth;
  2. The rate of inflation;
  3. The levels of compensation received by justices and judges of other states and of the federal government;
  4. The Commonwealth’s interest in attracting highly qualified and experienced persons to serve as justices and judges;
  5. The value of comparable service performed in the private sector, including arbitration and mediation;
  6. The compensation of attorneys and other qualified persons in the private sector;
  7. The consumer price index and changes in that index;
  8. The overall compensation currently received by other public officials and employees; and
  9. The time requirements of the office for which the compensation recommendation is made.

Both the House and Senate version retain the same Commission appointees: Governor (2 seats), Senate President (2), House Speaker (2), Chief Justice (2), and State Bar President (1).

Both the House and Senate version prohibit Commission members or their families from contributing to political campaigns; the House version also provided they cannot have contributed to a campaign in the four years prior to appointment.

HB 469 as amended now goes to the Senate Consent Calendar.

What trial court has jurisdiction to hear a challenge to state laws/actions? The one in the capital county, or any county? States debating venue.

The question of what state court has venue or jurisdiction to hear challenges to state laws and/or state actions has come up a great deal recently. Some states require the suit be filed in the county that contains the capital. Wisconsin (Dane County, discussed here) and Michigan (Ingham County, discussed here) for example had something like this until they changed their law to get these cases moved out of the capital county. North Carolina’s effort last year disallows challenges to the constitutionality of state laws be tried in any county, instead specifically allowing the Chief Justice to pick three judges from anywhere in the state.

This year there have been three movements in various directions on this score.

Kansas: SB 58 amends the state’s Judicial Review Act to require all judicial review of agency actions be moved into the capital county (Shawnee), rather than the current practice of filing “in the county in which the order or agency action is entered or is effective…” That bill was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 5.

Kentucky: SB 178 moves legal/constitutional challenges under 100 different statutes out of the capital county (Franklin) and into any county. That bill is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Mississippi: Attempting to get cases challenging state laws and agency actions moved out of the capital county (Hinds) HB 710 instead allows the Chief Justice to designate a Circuit Judge from anywhere in the state to hear the case and to have the hearings and proceedings moved to any courthouse in the state (discussed here). That bill was approved by the full House on February 4.





Kentucky: Public financing for supreme court races approved in committee

For the third time in the last five years a plan to provide for public financing of supreme court races in Kentucky has come out of the House Judiciary Committee. HB 63, as approved by the committee on February 12, would provide for public financing for supreme court races starting in 2016. As I noted in December 2014

HB 63 of 2015 as prefiled appears to be identical to prior bills (HB 230 of 2012; HB 31 of 2013; HB 72 / SB 222 of 2014) and similar to a 2011 bill (HB 21 of 2011) that would have covered all judicial elections. Of all of these, the one that advanced furthest was the 2013 iteration which was narrowly approved 48-46 in the House but never taken up on the Senate.

Under the bill, candidates for the state’s top court would be eligible for public funding if they raised $5,000 made up of individual contributions below $25. The main sources of funding for the program be a voluntary income tax refund designation program and a voluntary fee/contribution by members of the Kentucky Bar Association.

With its approval by the House Judiciary Committee it has now been referred to the House Rules 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