What just happened? May 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: the interdependence between courts and their environment (legislatures, the bar, political parties, and the communities they serve) is on full display.

May 2017 was another busy month for courts and the public they serve.  Throughout the month, we got a taste of the past, present, and future of state judicial elections.  In Illinois, a judge elected last November refused to take his assigned seat on the traffic court bench, an unusual breach of internal norms that eventually led to his resignation.  In Pennsylvania, voters went to the polls to choose their judges, resulting in at least one instance in a non-lawyer ascending to the bench.  And in New York, judicial hopefuls rubbed elbows with the political party bosses who have de facto control over judicial selection at the trial court level.

Efforts to fill vacancies on the federal courts were slow but steady.  President Trump named ten nominees to various federal courts, including three current state judges.  But infighting among Senators raised the specter of revising the traditional “blue-slip” policy that gives home-state Senators effective veto power over nominees.

Internationally, both Israel and Jordan witnessed important reforms to their judiciaries.  Venezuela’s Supreme Court was subjected to U.S. economic sanctions for their role in supporting their country’s corrupt government.  In Ontario, one judge was reprimanded for failing to explain her decisions, while her counterparts pushed back against mandatory sexual assault training.

Courts worldwide made changes that had significant ripple effects on their communities, including courier services, bail bondsmen, and the local bar.

And external forces influenced courts as well.  Judges in Oregon struggled with ways to enforce jury duty obligations, while courts in Kansas discussed whether shield the identity of jurors.  Six state courts signed on to a regional agreement to combat opioid addiction.  Texas judges benefited from two bills, one to increase court security and another making attacks on judges a hate crime.

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