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NYT: 'Political Tug of War' Over Courts Going On in States Across Nation

Image: NYT: 'Political Tug of War' Over Courts Going On in States Across Nation
Montgomery County courthouse in Norristown, Pa. (Getty Images)

By    |   Friday, 01 Apr 2016 10:33 PM

A "political tug of war" is taking place around the country, with conservative lawmakers hoping to reshape state courts to be more accountable to a right-leaning public, the New York Times reports. 

In one of the highest-profile battles, a GOP-controlled Senate in Kansas passed a bill last month to authorize impeachment of justices if their decisions "usurp" the power of other branches, the Times reports.

"If you’re going to make political rulings, then you should be politically accountable," explained the bill sponsor, state Sen. Dennis Pyle.

And in November, conservatives hope to remake the seven-member Supreme Court in Kansas by unseating four justices regarded as too moderate or liberal, the Times reports.

But the conflict is erupting in many of the 38 states where justices are either directly elected or face periodic retention elections.

"We’ve seen this tug of war between courts and political branches all around the country," Alicia Bannon at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University tells the Times.

For example, the Times reports:
  • In Wisconsin, where a court seat will be filled in an election Tuesday, ads sponsored by out-of-state groups from the left and the right have helped push total campaign spending to more than $2.6 million.
  • In Pennsylvania, unions and plaintiffs’ trial lawyer groups last year spent about $2.9 million on TV ads that helped elect Democratic candidates to three Supreme Court seats.
  • In Oklahoma, bills are being considered that would give the governor and legislative leaders more control over the selection of justices.
  • In Georgia, a Republican bill has passed the General Assembly that hikes the number of Supreme Court seats – a strategy that's been described as "court-packing."

The Times notes that in Kansas, all but one of the seven Kansas justices were appointed by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, or her predecessor, a moderate Republican.

And conservative Gov. Sam Brownback has condemned the existing system for choosing the justices, calling it "controlled by a handful of lawyers." Brownback supports an amendment to create "a more democratic selection process," the Times reports.

Charles Geyh, a professor at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law, warns, however, that partisan battles threaten to undermine faith in the courts.

"We need to get past the fiction that judges are umpires that just call balls and strikes," he tells the Times. "Ideology will affect their decisions, but we need to give them some breathing room. They are not hijacking the law."

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A "political tug of war" is taking place around the country, with conservative lawmakers hoping to reshape state courts to be more accountable to a right-leaning public, the New York Times reports.
state, battles, courts, politics, report
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2016-33-01
Friday, 01 Apr 2016 10:33 PM
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