2011 Year in Review: Colorado Courts Continue to Play Politics
Colorado Courts Continue to Play Politics in 2011…
Another tumultuous year has come and gone for the Colorado judiciary – and once again, Colorado Citizens and taxpayers have been hammered by the gavels of Colorado judges pounding their personal preferences over the will of the people – and the rule of law.
Last year closed with Colorado being declared a “judicial hellhole” by a national judicial evaluation organization (one of only three state supreme courts nationwide to qualify for the “honor”, joining Michigan and perennial favorite West Virginia in being so recognized). The 2011 legislative session failed in repealing all but two of 2010’s unconstitutional “Dirty Dozen” tax increases (facilitated by the Colorado Supreme Court) or the even more onerous 2009 “FASTER” Colorado Car Tax legislation (aided and abetted by yet another anti-constitutional ruling by the Colorado Supreme Court’s “Mullarkey Majority” enabling taxes to masquerade as “fees”), and even almost passed another tax increase (the “movie-ticket tax“) attempting to exploit the court’s creation of anti-TABOR “loopholes.”
Spring and Summer was dominated by legislative battles over congressional redistricting (sadly, the state senate reprised the 2000 playbook of abdicating responsibility to send it to the courts) and the Colorado Reapportionment Commission’s public hearings on re-setting the boundaries of our state legislative districts. Both issues came to a head in court battles during the Fall, with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ultimate decision in both cases (determining the political shape of Colorado for the next decade) coming in early December (December 5th & December 12th, respectively).
Colorado courts were also a central battlefield for Education policy, as one Denver District judge threw out Douglas County’s attempts to enable greater school choice, and another Denver District judge declared the state system of funding schools “unconscionable” while advancing the power of the courts to determine “proper” levels of school funding (despite the Constitution’s delegation of that power to the legislative branch) – although that decision is likely to be overturned after an expensive (and long) appeal to the Colorado Supreme Court.
In fact, 3 out of 4 “Top Colorado Political Stories of 2011” directly involve Colorado’s politicized judiciary (and the remainder, the voter rejection of tax increases at the ballot box, is juxtaposed against yet another court-approved tax increase the day before the vote):
- Failure of Prop 103
- Lobato decision
- Douglas County school vouchers
Cases such as Lobato – particularly Rappaport’s biased ruling – and the politicized nature of the court’s involvement in the congressional redistricting and state legislative reapportionment cases – highlight the importance of fair and impartial courts and of judges who exercise proper restraint (in accordance with the rule of law) in considering – let alone deciding – issues of policy more appropriate for the elected, representative branches of government. Our courts have an important – even vital – role to play in our society and system of government. Deciding issues of policy – instead of fairly and impartially upholding the law – is not it.
Clear The Bench Colorado will, with your support, continue to promote transparency and accountability in the Colorado judiciary, informing the public to increase awareness of the substantial public policy implications of an unrestrained activism and political agendas in the courts. We will continue to work to educate voters and provide information of relevance related to the judicial branch, and to provide useful and substantive evaluations of judicial performance.
Ultimately, though – it’s worth the effort.