Federal judge who blocked executive order receives death threats

Several news outlets have reported that Judge Derrick Watson, of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii, has received death threats in the wake of his March 15 order enjoining the enforcement of President Trump’s revised travel ban.

This is not the first time American judges have been threatened, and certainly won’t be the last.  Fortunately, the U.S. Marshals and local police take such threats very seriously.

California courts to pilot video remote interpreting

According to this story, California will pilot the use of the video remote interpreting (VRI) technology in the Superior Courts of Merced, Sacramento, and Ventura.  The pilot, designed to cope with what is described as a “severe shortage” of qualified court interpreters in the state, will begin in July.

New release of federal criminal justice data — only 3% of cases go to trial

The Bureau of Justice Statistics has released its newest data on the federal criminal justice system, from 2013-14.  Among the highlights:

  • During 2014, federal law enforcement made 165,265 arrests, a 12% decrease from 188,164 arrests in 2013.
  • In 2014, the five federal judicial districts along the U.S.-Mexico border accounted for 61% of federal arrests, 55% of suspects investigated, and 39% of offenders sentenced to federal prison.
  • There were 81,881 federal immigration arrests made in 2014—one-half of all federal arrests.
  • Ninety-one percent of felons in cases terminated in U.S. district court in 2014 were convicted as the result of a guilty plea, 6% were dismissed, and 3% received a jury or bench trial.

While the data themselves are about two years behind, they obviously inform current policy debates.  The entire statistical package also gives a better sense of the coordination between the federal courts and the DEA, U.S. Marshals, federal prison system, and federal prosecutors.

Delaware courts embracing private sector management techniques

Buried in this story about the University of Delaware’s partnership with the state court system to create a fellows program for graduate students is a most interesting point:

In 2014, the judicial branch entered a 10-year partnership with the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics to improve court operations using private-sector techniques.

As part of the effort, many in the courts were trained in Lean Six Sigma, a methodology focused on removing waste from the processes. The courts said this helped save the judicial branch and partner agencies more than 4,250 staff hours.

Courts have been looking to private sector organizations for management techniques for  a century, when Chief Justice Taft began infusing the federal courts with “executive principle.” But until this story broke, I was admittedly unaware that Six Sigma techniques were being applied directly in state court systems.

More background on the court-university partnership is here.

Minnesota judge loses constitutional challenge to state’s mandatory retirement age

Last summer, Minnesota District Judge Galen Vaa filed a lawsuit against the state, alleging that its mandatory judicial retirement age of 70 was unconstitutional.  (Vaa is currently 69 and wants to keep working past next year.)  This week, another district judge in the state ruled against his claim, concluding that the state constitution authorized the legislature to set a mandatory retirement age.

Most states impose mandatory retirement ages between 70 and 75.  Judge Vaa plans to appeal the ruling.

UPDATE: Michigan lawmakers are considering eliminating that state’s mandatory retirement age for judges.  We’ll follow this development as well.

North Carolina House overrides veto on partisan judicial elections bill

As I reported previously, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed a bill that would require state trial court elections to be partisan.  Candidates would have to participate in party primaries and run under a specific party affiliation.  Disappointingly, the state House of Representatives voted to override the veto yesterday.  The issue now moves to the state Senate.

UPDATE: The Senate has completed the veto override.  All North Carolina judicial elections will be partisan going forward.

Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?

The humdrum unanimity of Supreme Court cases is rarely conveyed to the public, even in passing.

CSPAN/PSB has released a new survey of more than 1000 likely voters, concerning their knowledge of and attitudes about the United States Supreme Court.  The results are not particularly encouraging for those who follow the Court closely.

Survey respondents reported very high interest in the Court generally: 90% of respondents agreed that “Supreme Court decisions have an impact on my everyday life as a citizen” and 82% indicated that the issue of Supreme Court appointments was important to their 2016 Presidential vote.  Sixty-five percent of respondents stated that they follow news stories about the Supreme Court “very often” or “somewhat often.”

But at the same time, actual familiarity with the Court and its members is middling at best.  Nearly 60% of survey respondents could not name a single Supreme Court Justice.  And while 71% of respondents said that they were following the recent news about President Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, only 28% could actually identify that nominee by name.

Also significant were the latest numbers regarding the public’s perception of the Court: 62% of survey respondents agreed that recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions demonstrate that the Justices effectively split into parties, similar to Republicans and Democrats in Congress.  By contrast, only 38% of respondents thought that recent decisions demonstrate that the Court acts in a serious and constitutionally sound manner.

Results like these tend to trouble court watchers, both in terms of the general lack of civic knowledge and with respect to the public’s apparent belief that the Court is primarily political body.  These trends do require attention.  But a closer inspection suggests that there is no need to panic — at least not yet. Continue reading “Public interest in the Supreme Court is high, but knowledge is low. Should we worry?”