Archives for October 2014

Magazine Notes High-Stakes Court Cases

Mother Jones magazine is offering a rundown on five states where electing state supreme court justices has become a high-stakes political battle, complete with spending millions of dollars on attack and counter-attack ads. The piece offers some familiar names for anyone who follows the judicial policy wars, like Texas and North Carolina, and some places where you might not have noticed conflict, like Tennessee.

In particular, the magazine notes that Florida, also home to significant fights over the governor’s office and of course a vital presidential swing state, has seen dramatic increases. Florida, says reporter A.J. Vicens,  “… ranked near the bottom of the list between 2000-09 in terms of judicial candidate contributions, with nominees raising just $7,500 during that entire period. But that changed in the 2011-12 cycle, when three Supreme Court judges were up for retention votes, with candidate fundraising coming in at more than $1.5 million and independent spending topping $3.1 million.”

For court watchers, it may be interesting that the increased spending is happening in some states with “retention” models, which are believed to decrease political efforts in the judiciary. In those states, voters can only decide whether or not to keep or dismiss a judge – as opposed to choosing between candidates. California, for example, uses a retention system for its high court, although a huge majority of lower court judges run unopposed.

ICE Holds Down Under ‘Trust Act’ Policy

Some new numbers are confirming that law enforcement officials are holding fewer immigrants on behalf of federal immigration authorities. The change comes under policies of the Trust Act that went into place earlier this year and follow court decisions on the “holds.” The Associated Press reports that “… immigration officials say local authorities across the U.S. released thousands of immigrants from jails this year despite efforts to take them into federal custody, including more than 3,000 with previous felony charges or convictions.”

The AP story explains that “… the Trust Act limits the ability of local law enforcement to comply with Immigration and Customs Enforcement requests to hold immigrants longer than their scheduled release date to give ICE time to take them into custody.” Immigration issues are nearly always “civil,” not criminal issues.

California’s San Diego County was among the five counties nationwide with the most federal immigration requests declined, according to newly released ICE data. Santa Clara, Los Angeles, Alameda and Miami-Dade, FL, were the other four. In northern California, the number of detainees transferred to ICE custody fell 53 percent during fiscal year 2014, according to ICE. In the Los Angeles area, the number fell by 15 percent. Similar figures weren’t available for San Diego, but in fiscal year 2013, immigration authorities requested that 3,020 detainees be transferred to ICE custody from San Diego and Imperial counties, reports the AP.

See the story via California public radio here: Immigration Holds Plummet In First Year Of California’s Trust Act

SEC ‘Steering’ Cases To Judges It Appoints

It turns out the Immigration Courts are not the only justice system where prosecutors get to argue in front of judges hired by their side of the justice equation. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) is “… increasingly steering cases to hearing in front of the agency’s appointed administrative judges. Perhaps not surprisingly, the trend has resulted in a “winning streak” for the federal agency.
The WSJ says that “… thanks in part to enhanced powers granted in the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill, the SEC lately has been using the administrative judges for complicated cases, including several involving insider trading.” The insider trading cases were usually taken to federal court, but resulted in some high-profile losses. As with the immigration courts, the civil cases can be handled in ways that criminal cases cannot.
“It’s fair to say it’s the new normal,” says one SEC official in the Journal’s report. Not surprisingly, some critics are arguing that actual courts, not admin courts, should handle such lawsuits.

Even China Looks For Civil Court Reform?

For those wondering about transparency in American courts and the demise of our “rule of law” culture, given the rationing of justice in civil courts, there’s a great report in Foreign Policy magazine about China. It seems reform is afoot, and Fordham University Professor Carl Minzner notes that the Chinese “… have made judicial transparency a priority, with some provincial court authorities target=”_blank”>striving to make all of their verdicts available online. Central authorities have partially revived concepts of judicial professionalism that had gone into eclipse during the later years of Hu Jintao’s administration. One example is the attempt to separate out legal disputes and court cases from the poorly-defined petitioning channels many citizens use in practice to resolve their disputes.”

He also adds that “… authorities are experimenting with insulating judges from interference by local officials. Pilot reforms in six provinces remove control over the funding and appointment of local judges from the hands of county authorities, vesting it instead with provincial courts. This does not mean a repudiation of any core policies. Far from it. Beijing’s commitment to maintaining social stability above all else remains unchanged. But central authorities appear to be gambling that recentralizing control over the court system will help curb social dissatisfaction by combating incestuous relationships between local judges and government officials that are the source of many citizen grievances.”

Compare and contrast here: What Does China Mean By ‘Rule of Law’?

Supreme Court Considering Key Low-Level Drug Deportation Issue

The United States Supreme Court famously likes to use small cases to make big decisions, and thus we have the case of a man deported over a sock. The International Business Times explains that “… Moones Mellouli, an immigrant from Tunisia who has been fighting the grounds of his deportation order since 2012. A high court ruling against him could widen the deportation net for immigrants convicted of low-level drug-related crimes — even if the drugs in question aren’t designated controlled substances under federal law.”

The Times offers the backstory: “Mellouli came to the U.S. in 2004 on a student visa. He completed two master’s degrees, taught mathematics, secured a job as an actuary and received his green card. In 2010, he was stopped and detained in Kansas for driving under the influence, and then charged and convicted with possession of drug paraphernalia — specified under Kansas law as anything used to “store, contain, conceal, inject, ingest, inhale or otherwise introduce a controlled substance into the human body.” In this case, it was a sock containing an unspecified drug… in Kansas, this counted as a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine. Under federal law, and in many other states where “drug paraphernalia” has a stricter definition, Mellouli’s behavior wouldn’t have amounted to a crime at all.”

The idea was that his sock, where he had stashed four Adderall pills, was paraphernalia. The Justice Department’s Immigration Court upheld the deportation. Now, says the Times, “… if the Supreme Court agrees, it could open the way for more of these types of low-level drug crimes to become deportable offenses… the case also highlights the degree to which the variability of state laws factors into deportations: If Mellouli had been in California, rather than Kansas, he may not have been convicted in the first place.