Library of Congress features new exhibit on courtroom sketch artists

Smithsonian Magazine has a fun piece on a new exhibit at the Library of Congress featuring courtroom sketch artists and the dramatic moments they captured.  Check out the drawings of a frantic Charles Manson and a serene Timothy McVeigh — both are equally chilling.

What just happened? April 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: judicial selection drama continues, and court systems work to improve access and efficiency even as individual judges make headlines for the wrong reasons

After the hurly-burly of Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation hearings in March, one might have hoped for a calmer month of April on the judicial selection front. But high-profile stories continued at both the federal and state level. President Trump started to turn his attention to the more than 100 vacancies in the federal district and appellate courts, but unwisely rejected pre-selection vetting of nominees from the American Bar Association.  The President also left open whether he would consider suggested judicial nominees coming from bipartisan screening committees — an opportunity to foster some bipartisan agreement and smooth the nomination process for lower federal judges.

States which select judges through contested elections also experienced ongoing tumult, in the form of legislation and litigation.  And too many judges made the news for behaving unprofessionally. Continue reading “What just happened? April 2017 roundup”

The judicial workplace

Many workplaces have written and unwritten rules — dress codes, face time requirements, and informal norms about appropriate behavior. Courthouses are no different, and the most fundamental rule for judges is to always maintain the appearance of impartiality.

These rules are so well-engrained that it remains surprising when they are flaunted — as was the case last November when a judge in Ontario appeared on the bench wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. Judge Bernd Zabel, a Canadian citizen and Donald Trump supporter, claimed that he was simply joking with his colleagues, who were predominantly supporters of Hillary Clinton.

Continue reading “The judicial workplace”

The judges among us — revisited

Yesterday, Judge Raymond Myles was shot and killed outside his home in Chicago’s Far South Side.  Police are still searching for a suspect and a motive, although it appears that his death may have simply been the result of attempted robbery.

We are attuned to stories of judges being threatened or attacked because of their profession.  And such threats, whether explicit or otherwise, are taken very seriously.  But this story, where it appears the victim just happened to be a judge, reminds us that members of the judiciary live among us.  When they take off their robes and leave the courthouse for the day, they are ordinary members of society with the same needs for food, clothing, security, and happiness as the rest of us.

Six years ago, after Judge John Roll was killed in the same Arizona shooting that terribly injured Gabby Giffords, I shared some similar thoughts.

My deepest sympathies to the family and friends of Judge Myles.

What just happened? March 2017 roundup

The month in a nutshell: courts keep their heads down as legislatures awaken

The most prominent news of the last month centered on the confirmation hearings of Judge Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court and President Trump’s social media pronouncements about federal judges. Beyond the front page headlines, however, courts at every level were confronting challenges to their structure, autonomy, and legitimacy.  Continue reading “What just happened? March 2017 roundup”

Updates on cameras in the courtroom

This has been a busy week for policies governing the use of courtroom cameras.

  • Senators Charles Grassley (R-IA) and Dick Durbin (D-IN) introduced S.643, which I have seen alternately referred to as the Cameras in the Courtroom Act of 2017 or the Sunshine in the Courtroom Act of 2017.  The Act would require open proceedings in the United States Supreme Court to be televised.  Similar legislation has already been introduced in the House. Variations of this Act have been introduced for many years, without success.
  • Several media outlets declared this week “Sunshine Week,” leading to editorials calling for allowing cameras into both state and federal courtrooms.
  • On its own volition, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has started posting video of its oral arguments online. The always terrific Howard Bashman has the details in a new column for the Legal Intelligencer. The Third Circuit’s press release, which provides more context for its decision to make videos available,  is here.