by Samuel Rubinstein, Strategic Engagement Fellow, American Constitution Society
As the eyes of the nation were on Alabama for the high profile special Senate election between Roy Moore and Doug Jones, the Alabama Supreme Court issued a decision that raises troubling questions of partisan decision-making by state court judges. This corrosive effect that campaign money and politics have had on impartial justice was highlighted by Partisan Justice, a recent ACS report.
At issue in Alabama was a Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling which ordered the state not to destroy digital scans of paper ballots made by voting machines. Although paper ballots are retained, plaintiffs argued that public records laws mandate that the digital scans also be kept. The scans are important, they further argued, because only digital records are tabulated in the absence of a hand-recount, and machines can be tampered with. The state argued that the requested relief would require many machines to be reset with little time before the election. Siding with plaintiffs, the lower court wrote that, “the only action being asked of [the Secretary of State] at this point is to send a communication through a system that already exists and is routinely used,” to instruct local officials. Nonetheless, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the injunction, allowing the records to be destroyed. Ultimately, the election was decided by 1.5 percentage points, avoiding an automatic hand-recount.
Unbelievable and unprecedented fail to describe Senator John Kennedy’s (R-LA) questions and answers from one Trump judicial nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia during a Dec. 14th confirmation hearing.
"Have you ever tried a jury trial?" asked Senator Kennedy.
"I have not," Petersen said.
"State or federal court?"
"I have not."
It is not surprising that video of this astonishing exchange went viral.
Recent events have put the death penalty and wrongful conviction on center stage in America. Last month, a California man made headlines for being pardoned after spending 39 years in prison. In his case, DNA evidence revealed that his own DNA did not match that found at the crime scene. Last year, Donald J. Trump stirred up controversy by maintaining that the Central Park 5 was guilty despite that another individual confessed to the rape and beating. Back when the crime first took place, Trump purchased full-page ads in newspapers calling for the reinstatement of the death penalty in New York. Such high-profile cases offer ammunition for critics of the death penalty, but they need to be packaged in a way that makes sense to a broader audience, including Christians and political conservatives.
by Eric Lesh, Fair Courts Project Director, Lambda Legal and Ethan Rice, Fair Courts Project Attorney, Lambda Legal
LGBT people have suffered a long history of discrimination based on animus and invidious stereotypes. As has been the case for other groups targeted for their personal characteristics, LGBT people have seen prejudice against them displayed in our nation’s courtrooms.
When this type of anti-LGBT bias taints the jury selection and trial processes, it reinforces historical prejudice in the court system, interferes with litigants’ right to a fair trial, and undermines the integrity of the courts.
Our nation has survived a sordid past from slavery to the internment of Japanese citizens. It even survived a duel between a sitting Vice President, Aaron Burr, and the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton that resulted in the Secretary’s untimely death. President Franklin Roosevelt tried to “pack the Court” as a counter measure to the “nine old men” who threatened his New Deal legislation. The republic even lived past Watergate and a President who used the power of the office to suppress dissent.