I have praised Jeffrey Rosen’s new biography of William Howard Taft on this blog before. It is a lucidly framed and highly readable look into the life of the only man ever to serve as both President and Chief Justice.
My longer review of Rosen’s book has now been published on JOTWELL. Enjoy!
The Pennsylvania Senate yesterday passed a significant redistricting bill that would redraw the maps both for the state legislature and the state’s representatives in Congress. Before the vote was taken, however, Senator Ryan Aument introduced an amendment that would also change the way Pennsylvanians vote for their appellate judges. The amendment calls for judges of the Commonwealth Court and Superior Court to be elected regionally rather than by statewide elections. The amendment passed, and did not seem to effect the passage of the final bill.
Sen. Aument later explained that his amendment would provide all areas of the state with representation on the appellate courts. Proponents also surmise that regional elections would increase voter turnout.
Last week, Senator Charles Grassley promised to hold a hearing on the federal courts’ response to workplace harassment, which culminated in a working group report. The Washington Post reports on that hearing here.
From the story:
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said in her opening statement that she was troubled by some aspects of the report.
“I’m also concerned that the working group’s report didn’t quantify the prevalence of sexual harassment in the judiciary and instead relied on previous EEOC data,” said Feinstein, using an acronym for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Grassley said in an interview that the report seemed like a way to “create the appearance of caring” while leaving “employees of the judicial branch without a vehicle for reporting abuses.”
The Iowa Republican said he would like to see an independent watchdog for the judiciary that could take and investigate reports of harassment. While Congress could theoretically get involved with legislation, he said, that might be difficult to accomplish in practice.
On Wednesday, the Rhode Island House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill to create an unlimited number of new magistrate judges for its state court system. The bill was controversial, in that many of the state’s existing magistrates have been appointed outside of the prescribed process. State judges are supposed to be appointed through the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission, which provides opportunities for vetting and public input. Many magistrates, however, appear to have received their appointments as political favors.
As I noted previously, this is a tough spot for the Rhode Island court system. The additional magistrates will be welcomed to help with the courts’ work, but the court system as a whole could lose legitimacy if the public lacks confidence in the appointment process.
This article provides a nice peek into the construction of the Ulster County (N.Y.) Family Court, a $10 million project that will eventually house new courtrooms, conference rooms, hearing rooms, office space, and a holding facility. There is nothing particularly unusual about the project, but if offers a glimpse into the community’s vision for the building.
This paragraph in particular struck me:
The new court’s location near the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Social Services, and the Office for the Aging — all at Development Court — will mean Family Court and the services most used by people who come through the court will be in one place, providing for a better continuum of care, Hein said.
That’s a point that could be easily overlooked, but it makes a big difference to the court’s primary users.
The Israeli Supreme Court has hired a media consultant for the first time. The consultant’s role will include helping Chief Justice Esther Hayut coordinate the work of various spokespeople throughout the court system.
Some in Israel are painting this as a gimmick to improve the legitimacy of the court system through public relations. But media adviser is a pretty common role in the United States, where many state and local courts have public information officers. It strikes me as an entirely reasonable move in a country with a sophisticated media and fast-moving news cycle.
This week, the Federal Judiciary Workplace Conduct Working Group released its report and recommendations, which covered a range of workplace conduct including sexual harassment.
Senator Chuck Grassley is not impressed with the final report, stating that “The report lacked very serious proposals and, in a sense, just kind of kicked the can down the road.” He wants Congressional hearings on the matter.