Does Japan owe its tradition of judicial independence to Czar Nicholas II?

Sort of, according to this wonderful article in the Japan Times. It relates how the Japanese courts, operating under the country’s nascent constitution in 1891, refused to bow to political pressure in Japan’s own “trial of the century.” And the Czar-to-be played an important cameo role.
Continue reading “Does Japan owe its tradition of judicial independence to Czar Nicholas II?”

Federal courts will still operate during shutdown

The United States Courts will use court fees and reserve resources to operate during the current government shutdown. The Courts can continue to operate for about three weeks, until January 11, 2019.

No more federal judicial confirmations this year

The Hill reports: Feeling heat from the left, Dems reject judges deal.

A Senate Democratic aide said Wednesday that [Chuck] Schumer would not agree to approve the final slate of judicial nominees as the Senate prepares to wrap up its work for the year.

Progressives skewered Schumer for agreeing to two previous deals this year, one in August and the other in October, when he signed off on a group of court picks in exchange for letting vulnerable incumbents head back to their home states to campaign before the November midterm election.

Current number of vacancies in the federal courts: 143.

 

Polish government accedes to ECJ ruling on forced judicial retirement

It has been a while since we checked in on Poland’s judicial reforms, most of which have been openly hostile to the country’s judiciary. One of the latest reforms would lower the retirement age of judges from 70 to 65, effectively removing about two dozen experienced judges from the bench, and correspondingly allowing the government to appoint new judges in their place. It’s court packing without the packing.

The European Commission sued Poland over the legislation in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), on the grounds that it was part of a larger set of “systemic threats to the rule of law” which could trigger the loss of Poland’s voting rights in the European Union. In October, the ECJ suspended the legislation pending a permanent resolution. It upheld the interim injunction on Monday.

In response, Polish President Andrej Duda signed new legislation revoking the early retirement bill. Is this a sign that the Polish government is moderating its stance on judicial reform under EU pressure? Stay tuned.

California’s Chief Justice makes an unhelpful announcement

California’s Chief Justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, announced yesterday that she had left the Republican Party and had re-registered without party affiliation. She explained that her decision had been spurred by the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court.  

“I’ve been thinking about it for some time,” Cantil-Sakauye said, noting that she had discussed her decision with her husband and friends. They told her, Cantil-Sakauye said, “you didn’t leave the party. The party left you.”

Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye is, of course, entitled to do whatever she wishes with her party affiliation, and she joins many prominent former Republicans who have left the party since the election of Donald Trump. There is nothing in the least bit wrong with her personal decision. But then she dropped this little nugget:

“I felt compelled to make a choice now. It better suits what I do and how I approach issues.”

Oh, dear.

The Chief Justice could have simply stated that she had changed parties as a personal matter, and that no party influenced her decisions on the cases that came before her. Now she has made her political beliefs an explicit part of her job description. I do not want to suggest at all that judges are oblivious to politics, or even that political considerations do not affect judicial decisions. But to place one’s own party affiliation at the core of “what [one] do[es] and how [one] approach[es] issues” is singularly unhelpful for building confidence in the judiciary.

 

Mexican president attacks judges and judicial pay

President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of Mexico lashed out against the country’s judiciary late last week, after Mexico’s Supreme Court suspended an austerity law that would have slashed the pay of many public employees.

Obrador, who has been in office for only two weeks, cut his own pay to less than half of his predecessor’s, and pushed through a law stipulating that no public sector employee could make more than the President himself. The Supreme Court suspended the law pending further review.

Obrador subsequently offered the following critique:

“I have no doubt that they’re the best paid public servants in the world,” the 65-year-old told a regular morning news conference on Tuesday, repeating that Mexico’s judges earn 600,000 pesos ($29,619) a month. Last week, before the court ruling, he described such a salary as tantamount to “corruption” in Mexico.

“With all due respect, only Donald Trump earns more than the president of the supreme court,” he added.

That, of course, has no basis in fact. But we’re talking about politics here, so what does that matter?

The court has accused Obrador of trying to undermine judicial independence. He’s not the only one these days.

Chief Justice Roberts: “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges”

Responding to President Trump’s characterization of a federal district judge who had ruled against the administration’s asylum policy as “an Obama judge,” Chief Justice John Roberts issued a statement rejecting the notion entirely.

“We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said. “What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”

In a tweet, the President later responded, “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.”

The situation is a bit more nuanced than either side’s statements suggest, of course. The Chief Justice is correct that the federal judiciary is composed of extraordinary individuals who try to do their best, irrespective of the parties or issues in a case. But each judge also cannot help but apply the law in a manner informed by personal experience and beliefs. It is far too crass for the President to assert that his legal setback was due to an “Obama judge,” but he is not entirely wrong that the judge in question might have viewed the issue differently than some of his peers on the district court bench.

Still, three cheers for the Chief Justice, trying to maintain the legitimacy of the judiciary in the face of ongoing populist attacks.