TOP LEGAL NEWS OF THE WEEK

Election Day initiatives impact state courts and voting rights

Amid last week’s midterm results were a number of state initiatives that will significantly affect lawyers as well as state court systems. 

In Louisiana, voters approved a constitutional amendment that will require unanimous jury decisions – instead of just 10 out of 12 jurors – for all felony convictions resulting from crimes committed after 2018.

And in the wake of a scandal involving allegations of excessive spending by West Virginia’s Supreme Court justices, voters there approved a constitutional amendment that limits the state judiciary’s control over its budget, authorizing the legislature to reduce the budget by up to 15 percent.

In Florida, a constitutional amendment affecting several aspects of the court system was approved. It requires judges to interpret statutes themselves rather than deferring to governmental agencies and raises the mandatory retirement age for judges to 75 years of age from 70. The amendment also creates constitutional rights for crime victims, such as freedom from intimidation by the accused. Victim rights amendments also passed in Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Nevada.

Also in Florida, voters approved a constitutional amendment that eliminates a collateral consequence of incarceration by automatically restoring the right to vote for people with prior felony convictions, except those convicted of murder or a felony sexual offense, upon completion of their sentences.

In North Carolina, an amendment failed that had proposed creating a new process of filling judicial vacancies that occur between judicial elections for state courts. Consequently, the governor will continue to fill vacant seats on state courts.

Concerns about endangered voting rights mobilized the legal profession, according to the ABA Journal and Law.com. To ensure that rights were protected during the midterm elections, law students served as poll monitors, while more than 4,000 volunteer lawyers and other legal staff from the nation’s largest law firms and corporate law departments hosted hotline call centers under a program run by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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