Courts try new tactics to address those who skip jury duty

The Oregonian has an interesting article on the efforts of state and federal courts to crack down on citizens not appearing for jury duty.  The story nicely describes the range of tactics in play, from jury coordinators and James Taylor concert videos to being individually summoned and grilled by an irritated judge.

Jury trials are central to the American justice system, and citizens who serve on a jury almost always walk away with a better appreciation for the court system and their own civic responsibilities.

GOP Senators consider modifications to blue-slip practice

For a century, the U.S. Senate has followed an unwritten “blue-slip” practice, in which Senators are permitted to block federal district and circuit court nominees from their home states from advancing to a confirmation vote, simply by declining to endorse the nominees.  Viewed in the most positive light, the practice allows Senators to exercise informed discretion over the nominee’s fit with a local court and local constituency.  Viewed more cynically, the blue-slip procedure provides Senators with essentially unchecked power to block nominees for any reason, no matter how ideological, arbitrary, or mean-spirited.

Senate Republicans are now openly talking about modifying the practice, to extend blue-slip privileges only over district court nominees.  This means that a single Senator could not hold up confirmation hearings over individuals nominated to serve on the U.S. Courts of Appeal.  Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) explained: “I think there’s a difference between the blue-slip application at the district court level where the courts is contained wholly within a state as opposed to a circuit court which covers multiple states….  The idea that an individual senator could veto in effect a nominee at the circuit court level is really unprecedented and I think it needs to be carefully looked at.”

Calcutta High Court to combat docket backlog with special summer sittings

The problems surrounding the backlog sound rather extreme to American ears. First, the summer session is designed to address cases prior to January 1, 2000 — seventeen-and-a-half years ago. By contrast, federal civil cases in the U.S. are flagged after being in the system for three years. Second, the backlog has been exacerbated by the Calcutta court’s vacancy crisis — only 35 judges are sitting, although 72 are authorized.

The bar association has opposed the summer session, on the grounds that “lawyers also need some respite during the grueling summer.”  No word on the opinion of the litigants who cases have been pending for nearly two decades.

Six state chief justices join forces to combat opioid epidemic

The Chief Justices of six states — Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee — recently signed a charter to support a Regional Opioid Initiative already in place in those states.  The courts’ commitment to the initiative recognizes that the epidemic crosses state borders and is most usefully addressed with a high level of cross-state cooperation.  It also recognizes the key role of state judiciaries in combatting the epidemic.

United States imposes sanctions on Venezuelan Supreme Court Justices

The Trump Administration has imposed economic sanctions on eight individual members of Venezuela’s Supreme Court.  Members of the Court, who are loyal to President Nicolas Maduro, issued a ruling annulling the opposition-led National Assembly in March.  Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement, “The Venezuelan people are suffering from a collapsing economy brought about by their government’s mismanagement and corruption. Members of the country’s Supreme Court of Justice have exacerbated the situation by consistently interfering with the legislative branch’s authority.”

Canada weighs sexual assault training for judges

From the story:

The Canadian Judicial Council is pushing back against the idea of having sexual assault survivors and support organizations help develop training for aspiring and sitting judges, fearing it could interfere with the independence of those on the bench.

The requirement was a recent change to proposed legislation introduced by Conservative interim leader Rona Ambrose, whose Bill C-337 calls for would-be federally appointed judges to first undergo comprehensive training in sexual assault law.

Once enacted, the legislation would also require the council to report on continuing education courses on sexual assault law, including telling the government how many sexual assault cases were heard each year by judges who lack the training.

The Canadian Judicial Council issued a statement Tuesday saying it still believes the bill, which was sent to the Senate with all-party support Monday, goes too far.

“While the council has been clear from the beginning that it finds the objectives of the bill laudable, we continue to have some concerns about the constitutionality of some aspects of the proposed law which may infringe on judicial independence,” spokeswoman Johanna Laporte wrote in an email.

“Specifically, reporting the number of sexual assault cases heard by judges who have never participated in seminars and opening the door for special interest groups dictating the kinds of education judges should adopt.”

I’m curious what readers of this blog think.  Similar issues arise in other contexts, such as the placement of allegedly defense-oriented or plaintiff-oriented attorneys on rules committees. Courts want to strike the proper balance between informing judges and indoctrinating them, but sometimes that general principle is hard to put into practice.

Technology displaces courthouse couriers

It is no particular surprise that the growth of electronic filing in state and federal courts would lead to a diminution in the need for physical couriers. But this article offers some nice color into how the system has changed, and how remaining courier services stay on their feet (or bikes, as the case may be).