Saturday, November 08, 2008

Criminal justice implications of 2008 elections from the courthouse to the Whitehoue

Looking around the web this morning, I see the newspapers and blogs have had time to begin assessing some of the criminal justice implications of Tuesday's historic election from the local to the national level, so let me point out a few highlights.

On the national front, Doc Berman has been busy since Tuesday writing about implications of the shift at the federal level, providing a few hints at Obama's transition plan priorities regarding drug policy reform, brings news of an extensive "Smart on Crime" agenda endorsed by 20 organizations, ponders appointments for US Attorney General and Solicitor General, and points us to this depressing piece from Drug War Chronicle about the success of two Oregon initiatives and the failure of California's Prop 5 that show "tough on crime can still trump smart on crime." An earlier SL&P post pointed out this compilation of state-level results on drug policy reform ballot initiatives.

Also, see Karl Keys' excellent post, "Jan. 21, 2009: Crimlaw Issues" in which the blogger from Capital Defense Weekly reads tea leaves from Barack Obama's public statements on crime policy.

It's hard to say yet what these elections meant for the Texas Legislature on criminal justice issues, and I'll wait to assess that more extensively once they finish counting votes in Linda Harper-Brown's race (otherwise Republicans control the House 76-74). A great deal hinges on who will be the next speaker, and I'm not among those who assume that because the Democrats picked up a few seats, Tom Craddick is necessarily gone. If Harper-Brown's seat flips and it becomes a 75-75 House, then I think we'll definitely see someone different, plus a lot of new committee chairs. Otherwise ... quien sabe?

On the Senate side, the Ds only pickup was Kim Brimer's loss in Tarrant County to Democrat Wendy Davis, a former Fort Worth city council member That brings the Democratic total in the Senate to 12 out of 31 seats, a far cry from the 50-50 split in the House, but still significant because 11 votes are necessary to block legislation in the Senate from coming to the floor.

Mark Bennett has a great roundup of judicial elections in Harrs County, evaluating the merits behind the wailing and gnashing of teeth in Prosecutorlandia over a crop of rookie Democratic judges. While approving of most of the new Harris judges, Bennett said that overall, "What the Harris County voters delivered was not perfect — Harris County has lost a couple of good judges, and picked up a couple of real question marks." See more bloggerly coverage of the Houston courthouse races at Life at the Harris County Criminal Justice Center, and also a post at the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

The Houston Chronicle had this piece on Harris County's judicial turnover, in which, "On the criminal side, one-third of the 22 judges [in Harris County] will be new" The transition will be an ongoing story, says the Chron, since "four of the criminal court losers — Devon Anderson, Caprice Cosper, Brock Thomas and Mike Wilkinson — took special training to preside over the county's drug courts, a program to divert drug offenders to treatment. Other judges will have to take the training if the program is to continue." OTOH, Harris judges have been a particularly obstinate bunch regarding sentencing and pretrial incarceration policy, so it'll be very interesting to see what happens. "Incoming Democrat Randy Roll, who will take over Wilkinson's bench, said he expects the new criminal judges to 'shake it up a little bit.'"

Texas Lawyer also had extensive coverage of the Houston races, as well as a good piece covering (mostly) "nailbiter" Republican victories on the appellate courts.

In Dallas, only six judicial races were in play - three of them criminal courts - and Democrats took all of them on party-line margins, solidifying Dems' control of Big D's judiciary and foreshadowing what could be in store for Harris County over the next few election cycles as the demographics continue to transform.

Let me know what other criminal justice implications you foresee from Tuesday's elections.

RELATED: Capital Defense Weekly lets us know that "Talkleft, PFAW, & NACDL all have thoughts on yesterday’s federal election and crimlaw. Mark Bennett & StandDown looks at the elections in Texas and crimlaw."

See more Grits post-election coverage:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always considered 'drug courts' to be little more than a legal version of those little 'donut tires' that all new cars come with, nowadays. You can't go above 45 with them, or they shred themselves; all they do is allow you to limp along until you can get it replaced with the real thing.

In this case, 'drug courts' allow the continued 'limping along' of drug prohibition, which by its' very nature cannot possibly be effective, as its' nearly century-long history has proven (good people, the Federal War on Drugs didn't start with Tricky Dick in 1968, but Woodrow Wilson in 1914).

IMHO, Drug courts are a tacit admission that the original system of 'lock 'em up for twenty years!' has been a gross failure...and by derivation, that the entire enterprise, itself, has also been a failure. Which is now proving to be much too expensive to continue.