Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Attack on Justice

It was about this time last year that Fox and Crew started to ramp up the rhetoric about the alleged "War on Christmas." I'm not hearing so much about that this year, but based on reporting in the Marietta Journal, what we have instead is an attack on justice. Republican lawmakers, unhappy with voter's choices for Georgia Supreme Court Justice during the last two cycles, have hired The Southeastern Legal Foundation to help them figure out how to "transform" the court. (This is the same group famous for successfully fighting weighting of race in UGA's admission policies and for opposing the continuation of federal deseg orders in various school systems.) For the court, options under consideration include expanding the number of justices (pack the court), making races partisan (politicize the court), and requiring justices to run by districts (gerrymander the court). This tampering with the delicate balance of powers is dangerous business.

They are mostly likely to go with the "add justices" solution because they say that they can justify this by the increased court caseload due to population growth. If the problem they were trying to solve were the increased workload of the court, I might buy that, but that is not the case. The problem they are trying to solve, quite simply, is that they want a court that is more "Republican." Any other claim is nothing more than a smokescreen.

"Justice", with her blindfold in place, gets little respect in the world of Republican lawmakers determined to move their legislative agenda forward, regardless. The court stands as an impediment to mob rule and as an assurance of "justice for all", even those I don't like, even those who are not powerful, those who cannot contribute to campaigns and even those most marginalized by society. The Republican plan to create a court in their own image is a insult, not only to justice but to every Georgia voter. Their message? "Georgia voters were too stupid to elect the right judges."

These lawmakers, whose solution to unconstitutional legislation is to change the constitution and to unfriendly court rulings is to change the court, are beyond arrogant. They wish to be kings.

Here's the entire article:

GOP mulls new judges (Marietta Daily Journal)

By Brandon Larrabee
Morris News Service

ATLANTA - Sweeping changes to the Georgia Supreme Court could be made in the coming legislative session after stinging defeats of conservative candidates in the past two judicial elections, according to those involved in the discussions.

At the behest of Republican leaders, the Southeastern Legal Foundation has begun examining ways to transform the court, including adding as many as two justices to the seven-judge bench and returning the elections to partisan contests, according to the group.

It isn't clear how much support either approach has, though the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said he doesn't see partisan elections returning.

Shannon Goessling, executive director of the foundation, confirmed that the conservative group had been asked by "legislative leadership" and some national organizations to look into ways of revamping the court. But she wouldn't offer specifics about who had requested the look.

"We're pursuing it with vigor and appreciate being asked," Goessling said.

Expanding the court and making the elections partisan again are just two of several ideas under consideration, Goessling said. Other options include electing the court from geographic districts, placing term limits on judges and tightening conflict-of-interest rules.

The review could be completed by the end of the year, Goessling said.

One argument for expanding the court is to account for a greater caseload brought on by the state's booming population.

"That would ... probably justify the addition of a couple more justices to the Supreme Court of Georgia," said House Majority Whip Barry Fleming, a Harlem Republican and member of the House Judiciary Committee.

An increased workload would be the only reason for expanding the court, say some groups who are wary of the change.

"I'm suspicious of the motives of expanding the court," said Bill Bozarth, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a good government group.

Among those supporting possible changes to the court is the Safety and Prosperity Coalition, a group that supports laws restricting medical malpractice lawsuits and was a major player in the effort to defeat current Justice Carol Hunstein's bid for re-election against Mike Wiggins.

"The clear advantage of that is to get a more fair and balanced judiciary," Eric Dial, chairman of the coalition, said of the possible expansion. "Right now, we don't have that."

Gov. Sonny Perdue's press secretary said the governor was aware of the proposals dealing with the Supreme Court, but Heather Hedrick wouldn't say whether Perdue would include any of the changes as part of his legislative package for the session beginning in January.

Returning to partisan elections is probably a nonstarter, said House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard, R-Atlanta, at least in part because it would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the General Assembly and would require approval by referendum.

"As a lawyer, being a Republican, I don't want to have my client being uncomfortable going before a judge that was elected as a Democrat," he said.

Willard also said he would prefer looking at expanding the state Court of Appeals, as was done in recent years, before considering a boost in the size of the Supreme Court.

Others, including Common Case and the League of Women Voters of Georgia, are crafting a proposal that would create a public financing system for judicial campaigns, removing both money from lawyers who might later come before the court and parties that have increasingly participated in judicial elections through tactics like "multi-candidate ads."

"You've got two different parties funneling money through loopholes in the law," said Jennifer Owens, executive director of the league.

Rep. Edward Lindsey, R-Atlanta, is expected to introduce that proposal.


Kathy said...

Wow. But we already knew they have no scruples and no shame. The brakes will really be off now that Sonny and his band of reverse Robin Hoods have a "mandate". Thank you for pointing out the divine right of kings aspect of their scenario. That's where church and state generally go when they hop in bed together, as they have in our state. Here in Houston County, during the debates, there was a child in the crowd wearing a shirt that said "Sonny Rules". I commented that that is what kings do. Of course that made me a liberal and a communist. I wonder what those decidedly middle class parents will make of this.

Enough of my ranting! More practically, what can be done about this? Can it be challenged on the federal level? Other than the 37 or so Democrats, who might have the integrity to vote NO?

Tina said...

I am hoping this idea will be stomped by those Georgians with enough common sense to realize that it won't do business in Georgia a bit of good for the state to be further marginalized by neo-con