After a century of trying, 3 states may join Iowa in giving state supreme courts broader powers to permanently reallocate judgeships

Since at least the 1900s, states have contended with the question of whether state chief justices and/or supreme courts should be the head of the judicial branch and if so what that meant. One characteristic, pressed for since at least the 1920s by writers like W.F Willoughby and Roscoe Pound, has been the permanent reassignment of judgeships from areas in the state that needed the personnel as indicated by caseload/workload.  Three states, Kansas, Missouri and Wyoming, appear poised to achieve just that while a fourth (Iowa) is starting to use its newly found power.

The first such state in recent memory to achieve this level of control was Iowa. SB 326 of 2011 authorizes the Chief Justice to apportion a vacancy in the office of district judge, district associate judge, associate juvenile judge, or associate probate judge, from the judicial election district where the vacancy occurs to another judicial election district. The Chief Justice must first certify a disparity exists in the allocation of judgeships and judicial workload between judicial election districts, and a majority of the judicial council must approve the apportionment.

In Missouri, SB 21 and SB 22 would give the state’s supreme court the power to move judgeships (after the current occupants left office) based on workload. It would also let the Supreme Court redraw circuit and appellate district lines every 10 years. Both bills advanced out of the Senate Judiciary Committee on January 30.

In Kansas, HB 2113 provides that the Supreme Court shall allocate all judicial resources as the court determines necessary and appropriate, including assignment of district judges and district magistrate judges to the judicial districts and to the county or counties in which they serve. It eliminates the statutory requirements specifying the location and number of district judges and district magistrate judges in each judicial district, and would repeal existing law that requires at least one judge of the district court to reside and have a primary office in each county. That bill is set for a hearing in tomorrow (February 7) before the House Judiciary Committee.

Finally Wyoming appears poised to allow for the movement of at least some judgeships by the Supreme Court. SB 11 as amended eliminates mandatory full-time magistrates and requires the supreme court determine whether they are necessity in a given county, after consultation with the appropriate board of county commissioners. SB 11 was approved by the full Senate on January 18.


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