What just happened? July 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: Judicial independence is under attack worldwide, especially in Poland — where an effort to exert executive branch control over its judges draws international criticism.

Throughout July 2017, judges across the world faced a variety of challenges to their individual and organizational independence. Among other things, Californians commenced a poorly thought-out effort to remove Judge Aaron Persky. And facing low salaries, Uganda’s judges voted to strike if they did not receive a pay raise.

But the big news was in Poland, where the ruling Law and Justice Party proposed a series of bills that would have effectively given control of the judiciary to the executive branch.  Among the proposals: cutting the judiciary out of the judicial appointment process, and allowing the Attorney General to remove and replace Supreme Court Justices he did not like. The bills were widely seen as a power grab that threatened the judiciary’s independence, leading to more than a week of protests in Warsaw and international criticism. Although two bills passed the Polish legislature, they were eventually vetoed by President Andrzej Duda. Still, Duda did sign other reform legislation, including a bill allowing unilateral replacement of lower court judges by the executive branch. Just yesterday, the European Union sent a letter to the Polish government, reiterating its intent to take away Poland’s voting privileges in that body if any Supreme Court Justices are removed.

Back in the United States, an increasing number of reports suggested the perils of using social media and texting for judges. And the President continued to make slow progress in nominating candidates for federal judicial vacancies.

There was good news, too, dear reader. Under the radar, many courts continued to initiate projects to reflect the needs of their communities. The New York courts announced a plan to place opioid overdose kits in their courthouses. North Carolina started two programs to ease court congestion in traffic and landlord-tenant cases. And courts across the country continued to increase the transparency of their work, by posting court filings online or by allowing cameras into the courtroom for hearings of public interest.

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