Another chapter in the merit selection of judges was started on Friday, July 12. That’s when a group of people you’ve likely heard of filed a lawsuit.
As the Republic reported:
“In April, the Arizona Legislature passed a bill that increased the minimum number to five candidates for each judicial vacancy, and Gov. Jan Brewer, who has lobbied for more candidates, signed it into law.”
“On Friday, four members of the commission that nominates judicial candidates for the state’s appellate courts filed a petition for special action in the Arizona Supreme Court, asking the high court to throw out the law on the grounds that it is unconstitutional. Among the lawyers of record for the petition are six former Arizona Supreme Court justices, including five former chief justices.”
That sequence of events came after a November ballot initiative that sought to change the selection process set out in the Arizona Constitution. In case you don’t remember, voters rejected the effort to change the process by giving the governor’s office even more say than it has now.
The newest development sees four members of the appellate court commission suing to have the Legislature’s recent actions found unconstitutional.
Lawyers on the special action are Tim Eckstein and Mark Harrison as well as former Chief Justices Ruth McGregor, Stanley Feldman, Tom Zlaket, James Moeller, Frank Gordon, Jr., and Charles Jones.
Quite the legal heavyweights.
Just to keep you up to speed, be sure to read the Republic’s editorial “Supreme Court should throw out judicial-selection law.”
And just because it’s worth reading, here is the Introduction and Statement of Issues from the Special Action:
The Arizona Constitution, in Article VI, creates the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments (“the Commission”), and establishes the procedures by which the Commission must nominate candidates to the Governor for judicial vacancies. Article VI, § 371 requires the Commission to nominate “not less than three” candidates, but leaves to the Commission’s discretion whether to nominate more than three candidates. In 2012, the Legislature attempted to amend this constitutional scheme by referring to the People a measure (Proposition 115) that, among other things, would have amended the Constitution by changing the number of candidates the Commission must nominate. Over seventy percent of voters rejected that measure.
Not content with the People’s decision to leave Article VI, § 37 of the Constitution as it is, the Legislature, in its just-completed session, passed (and the Governor signed) House Bill 2600 (“H.B. 2600”), which purports to amend Article VI, § 37 by requiring the Commission to submit at least five candidates to the Governor, but provides that on a two-thirds vote, the Commission may reject a candidate and “submit fewer than five names.”2 This statute thus attempts two changes in the constitutional scheme: First, in the absence of a supermajority vote, the Commission is required to nominate five (rather than three) candidates.
Second, with a supermajority vote, the Commission may nominate fewer than three candidates. The Legislature’s attempt to amend the Constitution in these ways cannot stand. Under Article XXI, the Constitution may be amended only by vote of the People—not, as here, by legislative fiat. In addition, under Article IV, Part 1, § 1(14), the Legislature cannot supersede Proposition 115, which was defeated by the voters in 2012. Because of the frequency and importance of the Commission’s work, this Court should exercise its special action jurisdiction, declare that H.B. 2600 is unconstitutional, and enjoin and prohibit the Commission from applying H.B. 2600.
1 Article VI, § 36 of the Constitution creates the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments and Article VI, § 37(A) of the Constitution sets forth the nomination procedures for the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Article VI, § 41 creates Commissions on Trial Court Appointments and Article VI, § 37(B) sets forth nomination procedures for the Commissions on Trial Court Appointments. Counties with populations of 250,000 or more are covered by §§ 37(B) and 41; presently Maricopa, Pima and Pinal Counties are covered by those sections.
2 H.B. 2600 applies to the Appellate Court Appointment Commission and the three Commissions on Trial Court Appointments. The arguments and references made in this Petition with respect to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments apply equally to the three Commissions on Trial Court Appointments.
Statement of Issues
1. Does H.B. 2600 unconstitutionally amend Article VI, § 37 by (1) requiring the Commission, in the absence of a supermajority, to nominate more than three candidates to the Governor; and (2) permitting the Commission, with a supermajority, to submit fewer than three candidates to the Governor?
2. Does H.B. 2600 violate Article IV, Part 1, § 1(14) of the Constitution by superseding Proposition 115, which was defeated by a majority of the voters in 2012?Follow @azatty