Family Court Law Day talks separation of powers and recent attacks on the judiciary
The separation of powers is the idea that there are three co-equal and independent branches of government, the legislative, executive and judicial. That idea has come under so much scrutiny recently that the American Bar Association made it the national theme for this year’s Law Day.
The Kings County Family Court held its annual Law Day celebration on Thursday, during which Judge Alan Beckoff, co-chair of the Law Day committee, and Brooklyn Law School professor William Araiza discussed the separation of powers.
Beckoff pulled no punches in discussing some recent attacks on the judicial branch of government by the other two branches.
“These concepts presuppose that the three branches will respect each other, but often it seems that the executive and legislative branches do not treat the judiciary as a co-equal, independent branch, but rather like any other government agency, like the DMV or the Department of Fish and Wildlife, especially at budget time.”
ABOVE: Pictured from left: John Coakley, Gail Gibbs, Hon. Edwina G. Mendelson, Hon. Alicea Elloras, Hon. Robert Mulroy, Hon. Alan Beckoff, Boburshoh Husenbaev, Hon. Melody Glover, Hon. Lisa Friederwitzer, Hon. Anne-Marie Jolly, Kischa Daniels, Joseph H. Velez, Hon. Alison Hamanjian, Hon. Dean Kusakabe, Supervising Judge Amanda White, Dionne Lowery, Diamonique Perry and Lori L. Whitney.
Beckoff cited the Brennan Center for Justice, which has recently documented 46 bills in 16 states, including New York, where the legislature attempted to diminish the power of the judiciary by stripping its jurisdiction.
Bills he cited included one in North Carolina where newly appointed judge would have to be from the prior governor’s party. In Iowa, the bill attempted to prohibit the state’s Supreme Court from holding any law unconstitutional unless a “supermajority” of justices agreed.
The third, in Washington, would give the Legislature the power to overrule any state court decision that held a law unconstitutional. Finally, in Missouri there was a proposed bill that would let the voters decide the unconstitutionality of a law and would prohibit the state from enforcing such laws.
“So what can we do about these attacks?” Beckoff asked. “The first step for all citizens is an awareness of separation of powers is not a self-executing system. It requires vigilance and maintenance. So I say to all citizens — vote, march, write a letter to the editor, do something.”
Araiza echoed Beckoff’s sentiments and discussed two cases where he saw an example of a violation of the separation of powers and one that upheld them. One of those cases, Gundy v. United States, which is currently in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, is a fight over whether or not a state’s attorney general can both determine laws and enforce them at the same time.
“It matters because of liberty,” Araiza said. “We want congress to make the laws, because we don’t want law enforcers to decide what the law is that they’re going to enforce. When the legislature does it at least there is some deliberation, some debate, and if we don’t like what they have done, there is a possibility of some accountability.”
The event also served as a ceremony to honor courthouse employees with the Employee Recognition Award. The honorees included senior Court Clerks Joseph H. Velez and Gail Gibbs, Court Officer Shane’e K. Johnson Byrd and Court Assistants Lori L. Whitney and Kischa Daniels.
Court Officers Daniel Vega, Felix Fernandez and Sharifa John were also recognized for their efforts in helping the families in Puerto Rico who suffered in the wake of the devastating hurricanes that tore through the region last summer.
The annual Probation Recognition Award was given to Diamonique Perry, a young woman who was in the foster care system in her youth, but has emerged and is thriving today. Boburshoh Husenbaev, from the Urban Assembly School for Law & Justice, was presented with a certificate by Hon. Alicea Elloras, co-chair of the Law Day Committee, for winning the Law Day essay contest.
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