Alabama: commission to reallocate judgeships reintroduced in special session; Senate approves quickly but stalls out in House

A plan discussed here to create a special commission in Alabama to reallocate judgeships that failed in the regular session of that state’s legislature was re-introduced in a special session held this week. While the plan was quickly approved by the Senate it was once again killed in the House. With the prospects of a second special session this fall some version of the plan is likely to come back up again.

SB 33 of the First Special Session, like SB 230 of the regular session, would have created a Judicial Resources Allocation Commission made up of 11 people

  • the Chief Justice (chair)
  • the governor’s legal advisor
  • 3 Circuit Judges picked by their association’s president
  • 3 District Judges picked by their association’s president
  • 3 attorneys picked by the state bar’s president

The Commission would conduct an annual review and rank each district or circuit on the need to increase or decrease judgeships based on 4 criteria

  1. A Judicial Weighted Caseload Study as adopted by the Supreme Court
  2. The population of the district or circuit
  3. The “judicial duties” in the district or circuit
  4. Any other information the commission deems relevant

That review and ranking list would be submitted to the legislature and the governor. The Commission would, however, be able to act without a specific law to change the judgeships. Where a vacancy occurred due to death, resignation, mandatory retirement, or similar case the Commission could unilaterally move the vacancy. The move would be limited in two ways

  1. The circuit/district that loses a judgeship cannot as a result drop to the bottom 10 on the ranking list
  2. Every county is entitled to at least one District Judge

This 2015 version differs markedly as compared to the 2014 version in that the Commission would be able to move the judgeship alone; the prior version as amended would have required approval by the state’s supreme court.

SB 33B was approved by the full Senate on August 5 and made it through the House committees. It died on the House floor when the special session adjourned Tuesday.