Alabama: Should appellate judges be forced to reside in Montgomery or face impeachment?

Under current law, all appellate judges in Alabama “shall reside or live in or sufficiently near to the City of Montgomery so that such office or post of duty shall be reasonably accessible to him daily” (Supreme Court) or “reside in Montgomery during the terms of the courts” (Court of [Civil] Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals). At least for the Supreme Court’s justices, failure to do so is an impeachable offense. Under a bill introduced in the House last week, however, these restrictions may be eased.

First, some background.

In the earlier parts of U.S. history, it was not at all uncommon to require judges and clerks of court to reside at or near the court they served. Florida, for example, as recently as 2011 required the clerk of a Circuit Court live within 2 miles of the court.

All 6 of Alabama’s constitutions  have required executive branch officials such as the governor reside at the seat of government. A similar imposition was placed on the state’s appellate court judges by statute (§ 36-2-4) since at least 1919 (Supreme Court) and the current statute with respect to the intermediate appellate courts dates back to 1969 (§ 12-3-5, when the Court of Appeals was split into two separate courts, one for civil the other criminal) and maybe even earlier (the original Court of Appeals dates to 1911).

Moreover, the ramifications for judges who fail to reside in Montgomery are dire: the same 1911 statute that imposed the requirement on the Supreme Court also specifically holds that failure to reside was grounds for impeachment (§ 36-2-5).

HB 507 of 2013 would ease the residency restriction. Under its terms, justice of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of (Civil) Appeals and judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals would be able to reside within a day’s travel of Montgomery. The threat of impeachment would, however, still hover over the Supreme Court.

The last time and only time in the last several decades the issue came up was in 1996. HB 701 / SB 643 would have repealed the residency requirement for just the intermediate appellate courts by eliminating § 12-3-5. The bills advanced out of their respective committees (House Judiciary on 4/3/96; Senate Judiciary on 4/30/96) but died when the legislature adjourned. They were never reintroduced or offered up again.

HB 507 of 2013 is in the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee.