Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 3

This third in a series of posts looks at legislative efforts to change the civil jurisdiction thresholds in state limited and general jurisdiction courts in the last decade. For a listing of all current civil jurisdiction thresholds, click here.

Massachusetts to New Jersey below the fold.
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Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 3

This third installment looks at efforts to change state constitutional grants of rulemaking authority to courts of last resort, typically called the “supreme court”, or judicial councils.

My colleagues here at the National Center have a listing of all such provisions here.

Massachusetts to New Jersey below the fold.

Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 3

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: are there the votes in the FL Senate this year? And what about a MO veto?

The 2014 efforts to ban state court use of international or foreign laws in general, and sharia law in particular, are effectively over save for two states. Since I last updated this in early March the only movement has been in Florida and Missouri, setting the stage for a possible repeat of 2013.

Florida: The Florida House and Senate bills are presently on the floors of their respective chambers and could be voted on any day. However, when this occurred last year the House was able to pass its version on April 18, 2013. The Senate on the other hand did not have the votes to pass either its version or the House bill and wound up tabling (i.e. killing) a combined House/Senate bill in May 2013.

Missouri: Just like in 2013, the 2014 effort came out of the Senate General Laws committee. However, last year’s version was vetoed by the state’s governor citing among other things the possibility that the language was so broad it would void or at least jeopardize foreign adoptions. The 2013 veto was overridden by the Senate but failed to be overridden by the House by a single vote (108 out of 109 needed).

List of bills below the fold
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Bills to authorize the creation of veterans courts advance in Arizona, Georgia, Washington; South Carolina version lets prosecutor pick the judge and doesn’t let judge get a salary

Many states have statues or rules of court that authorize the creation of “veterans courts”, divisions of trial courts that handle criminal cases involving veterans to provide them the treatment they need to address mental health and other issues that may  have lead to the criminal case in the first place. This year several legislatures took up such authorizing legislation.

Arizona HB 2457 amends an existing law authorizing the creation of homeless courts in the state’s lower tier criminal courts (Justice and Municipal) to include the creation of “veterans court and mental health court” divisions.  HB 2457 has so far advanced unanimously though its House committees, the full House, and its Senate committees.

Georgia SB 320 is similar to the Arizona bill but not identical. Under the Georgia bill veterans court divisions can be created in any court with criminal jurisdiction. Moreover, the Georgia bill is more detailed in terms of the operations of the veterans courts, specifying they are to operate under standards and practices to be established and updated by the Judicial Council of Georgia. Prosecutors “may” dismiss cases of those who successfully complete the veterans court program and courts “may” reduce or modify any sentences related thereto but specifically not below statutory minimums. SB 320 cleared the House on March 11 and is or will be before the governor for approval.

Illinois, which statutorily authorized the creation of veterans courts some years ago, has a bill (HJR 75) to encourage their use and creation.

Louisiana SB 532 is somewhere between the Arizona and Georgia bill in terms of jurisdiction: the state’s main trial court (District) is authorized to create veterans court divisions but the lower criminal courts are not. The bill provides that while the District Judge makes the final determination of eligibility for the veterans court program, the district attorney makes the final determination on  revocation, extension, or dismissal. SB 532 is before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.

Mississippi had a series of bills to create veterans court divisions (HB 889, SB 2029, SB 2111). Only HB 889 made it out committee before dying in the House appropriations committee.

Nebraska LB 1105 expands an existing statute authorizing drug courts and problem solving courts to include veterans and servicemembers court divisions. LB 1105 had a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on February 20 but proceeded no further.

New Jersey has two veterans court bills. AB 1916 authorizes a pilot program in a single county (Burlington) for nonviolent offenders. This bill has been submitted every year for the last 3 legislative sessions in the Assembly and/or the Senate but never received committee approval. It is currently in the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. The second such bill, SB 227 is broader, authorizing the pilot program in two “vicinages” (collections of one or more counties) one of which must  be Burlington County. It was first introduced last in the 2012/2013 session and has been reintroduced. It is pending in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Oklahoma HB 2802 is just the latest attempt going back to at least 2009 to provide statutory authorization for veterans court divisions. This version failed to advance out of committee.

South Carolina stands alone from the other efforts at veterans courts. Under HB 3014 and HB 4859 the prosecutor (circuit solicitor) rather than an individual court judge or chief judge is authorized to establish the program. The state’s chief justice would assign judge(s) to the division but only “upon the recommendation of the circuit solicitor.” Moreover, the judge assigned would be required to attend training established by the prosecutor. Finally, the judge assigned could not be paid a salary and must serve on a voluntary basis. Prior efforts gave similar powers to the Attorney General, but left the selection of the judge to the Supreme Court “upon the recommendation of the Chief Administrative Judge for that judicial circuit.” (HB 3179 of 2011) HB 3014 passed the full House and came out of the Senate Judiciary Committee last year but has not moved since. HB 4859 was introduced earlier in March 2014 and has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee.

Washington HB 2556 makes two statements with regard to authorizing therapeutic courts in general and veterans courts in particular. In section 2 “The legislature recognizes the inherent authority of the judiciary under Article IV, section 1 of the state Constitution to establish therapeutic courts…” including specifically “Veterans treatment court.” In Section 3, however, the legislature authorizes every trial and juvenile court in the state to establish and operate such courts. HB 2556 passed the full House and the Senate Law & Justice committee in February and remains pending in the Senate Rules Committee. Another bill, SB 5129 introduced in 2013 and carried over into 2014 specifically authorizes veterans’ courts established by the Chief Justice, but has never been heard in committee.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: active in GA, FL, MO only; dead in MS

The latest efforts to ban state court use of international or foreign law, often cited in the context of banning the use of sharia law by state courts, appear to be failing. The vast majority of such bills are not even getting committee hearings. A case in point is Mississippi’s HB 44: the bill had been approved by the full House 116-2 in February, but failed to get out of the Senate Judiciary A committee before the March 4 legislative deadline for committee passage.

Effectively only 3 states have active efforts to enact such bans

List of bills below the fold

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: active in GA, FL, MO only; dead in MS

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: introduced in Georgia UPDATED

2014 appears to be the year when bills to ban court use of international/foreign law, or specifically sharia law, start to wane. I mentioned two weeks ago that at least three states that saw such bills introduced in the past did not see them reintroduced in 2014. Moreover, Mississippi failed to take up any of their bills before the legislative deadline for committee action. Of all the bills introduced in that state since 2011, not a single one has advanced out of committee (HB 301 of 2011, HB 525 of 2011, HB 2 of 2012, HB 698 of 2012, HB 711 of 2013, HB 1127 of 2013, HB 1333 of 2013, SB 2729 of 2013, HB 44 of 2014, HB 557 of 2014, HB 622 of 2014, and SB 2660 of 2014.)

Update 2/6/14: The Mississippi legislature’s bill tracking system now indicates that HB 44 of 2014 has in fact  made it out of committee.

Meanwhile Georgia has seen one bill and one constitutional amendment introduced in their legislature to ban courts from using international/foreign law.

List of bills below the fold

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: introduced in Georgia UPDATED

Kansas, Oklahoma, and other states show the legislative perils of being a statutorily created intermediate appellate court

I noted two weeks ago that when Oklahoma’s Speaker submitted his legislative agenda with respect to the courts that it included a bill for term limits for the Court of Civil Appeals only (HB 3379). It was notable in that much of the Speaker’s prior commentary had been about his objections to the state’s supreme court. Last year a move was made to eliminate merit selection for the Kansas Court of Appeals, but the inability to do so for the Kansas Supreme Court. A year before that, anger over an Arizona Supreme Court decision prompted a member of the Arizona Senate to try and reduce the size of the Court of Appeals, which never even heard the case in question, from 22 down to 6. All this seems to suggest a pattern of legislative activity emerging with respect to intermediate appellate courts (IACs), much of which seems focused on statutorily created IACs.

First, some history.

IACs are relatively new; most states simply didn’t have them prior to 1965 and to this day 10 states still do not have an IAC (that may go down to 9 if Nevada voters approve an IAC in November 2014). In making revisions to their state constitutions, some states during this time declined to create an IAC, instead giving the legislature the option at some point in the future to create such courts by statute if the need arose.

As a result of the 45 IACs in 40 states (Alabama, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania and Tennessee have two IACs) 16 are created via statutory provision alone. As such, unlike the super-majority + vote at the ballot box needed to alter courts of last resort, IACs are in a more vulnerable spot. Some rely entirely on statute for their method of selection, terms, and retirement. Others, such as Massachusetts, may rely on statute for their creation but once created the state constitution sets the parameters in these three areas.

Details regarding those 16 IACs below the fold.

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Drug test update: add Mississippi to list of states with bills to drug test judges

I failed to note yesterday another bill has been introduced to drug test judges.

Mississippi HB 1422 of 2014 differs from the Missouri (impeach if positive test) and Pennsylvania (cannot appear on ballot without clean drug test) models. Under HB 1422, a judge could be elected to office in Mississippi but would not be allowed to take office without a clean drug test being submitted. The judge would be obligated to pay for the drug test, however reimbursement would be available at the option of the governing authority (not clear if this means the local government or the administrative office of the courts).

Mississippi HB 1422 is in contrast to HB 1126 which limits drug testing to legislators only.

HB 1422 has been filed in the House Judiciary A Committee.

Florida and Mississippi may join Indiana in putting state judges in middle of U.S. constitutional convention fights

Recently there has been a series of pushes to amend the U.S. constitution via a constitutional convention as a way to work around Congress. Part of this has included a bill enacted in Indiana last year and promoted by its sponsor to other states to be able to punish delegates criminally who fail to vote the way their state legislature wished. The enforcement would or could come from an advisory group, with investigative powers, made up of Indiana’s top three appellate judges: the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, and the Chief Judge of the Tax Court (in Indiana, the Tax Court is not an agency, but an intermediate appellate court within the judicial branch). The “advisory” part is that these judges would have to give their opinion if a delegate’s vote violated the legislature’s will; a delegate would also be allowed prior to a vote to get the group’s advice ahead of time.

2014 has seen at least three bills introduced that parallel the Indiana law closely and in the case of Mississippi SB 2788 so closely it cites to Indiana Code sections (e.g. “IC 2-8-3-1”) rather than Mississippi law.

  • Florida HB 609: chief Justice, attorney for the President of the Senate (not the Lt. Gov.) and attorney for the Speaker of the House.
  • Mississippi HB 536: chief justice + associate justice (chosen by chief justice), chef judge of court of appeals + one other court of appeals judge picked by chief judge, circuit judge and chancery judge both chosen by governor, and attorney appointed by governor.
  • Mississippi SB 2788: chief justice, chief judge of court of appeals, licensed attorney chosen by state bar association

The Indiana law and the new bills include a provision for the advisory bodies to investigate the Article V convention delegates for prosecution for failure to adhere to the state legislature’s will, making them not just an advisory body but also a quasi-grand jury.

All 3 Florida and Mississippi bills are pending before their respective committees.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: South Carolina bill bans sharia law by name; bills not reintroduced in at least three states

I mentioned that in recent years efforts to prohibit state courts from using or referencing sharia law had gone out of their way not to specifically use the word. This was 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.

Those court rulings did not however stop the recent introduction of South Carolina HB 4494 which reads very similar to the 2010 Oklahoma amendment and mentions sharia law in particular.

A court, arbitrator, administrative agency, or other adjudicative, mediation, or enforcement authority may not enforce a foreign law including, but not limited to, Sharia law if it would violate a constitutionally guaranteed right of this State or of the United States.

2014 also marks the first year in several years that some states have simply stopped seeing such bills introduced. Three states that had such bills introduced (Indiana, New Hampshire, and Virginia) did not see them reintroduced prior to the filing deadlines for their respective chambers.

List of bills below the fold

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: South Carolina bill bans sharia law by name; bills not reintroduced in at least three states