AZ: Chief justice not asked about plan to expand state’s supreme court

February 18th, 2011 by Bill Raftery Leave a reply »

Normally, either through constitutional provision, statutory requirement, or courtesy, legislative efforts to change the number of judges or justices in a state must receive some degree of input from the state’s supreme court, judicial council, or chief justice. A recent effort (SB 1481 of 2011) in Arizona to expand the state’s supreme court from 5 to 7 members was therefore curious in that it failed to include the chief justice in the development.

Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, after being initially misidentified as being only a member of the state’s judicial council and not the state’s chief justice, (video here, four minutes from 1:06:30-1:10:30) said:

Actually I am the chief justice of the Supreme Court and I had hoped I was signed in in that capacity. And in that capacity, I was surprised by the bill and surprised to be surprised by the bill. Here’s a bill that proposes to change my court and no one asked me about it. Had I been asked, here’s what I might have said…

She noted that, perhaps unique among all governmental entities, the Arizona Supreme Court was current with its workload and that it would cost $1 million per year for the additional two justices.

The author later explained his bill: “I just thought that I might give the opportunity for two additional attorneys to sit on the supreme court.” The bill was ultimately rejected by the committee, but on a 3-4 vote.

This is the second effort to change the composition of state supreme courts this year. Montana considered reducing the size of its supreme court to force it into tort reform.