Iowa: Anger over Supreme Court orders limiting guns in courthouses continues, House member wants to cut Supreme Court salaries down to $25,000 (salary of a legislator), reduce their terms & term limit them

A member of the Iowa House has introduced 3 pieces of legislation targeting the state’s Supreme Court, the latest legislative reaction to orders released by the Supreme Court last year regarding a new law that expanded where guns could be carried first discussed here. The orders limited courthouse carrying of firearms, much to the anger of some legislators.

All three bills are not pending in the House Judiciary Committee.

Pennsylvania: constitutional amendment would require non-attorneys pass exam before they can even run for judicial office; currently they can run and be elected, but can’t assume office

The Pennsylvania Constitution currently provides that justices of the peace (referred to in statute as magisterial district court judges) are to be elected. For non-attorneys election is only the first step, they must then “complete a course of training and instruction in the duties of their respective offices and pass an examination prior to assuming office.”

This presents a problem: what happens if the non-attorney doesn’t pass the exam? Or take the course at all?

Back in the 1970s the state legislature tried to require non-attorneys take the exam prior to running for office to avoid this, but it was struck down as unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court (Flegal v. Dixon, 472 Pa. 249, 372 A.2d 406 (1977))

The Act’s imposition of the additional requirement that the instruction and examination be completed before filing nominating petitions is therefore unconstitutional.

Now, members of the Pennsylvania House wants to amend the constitution to in effect overturn Flegal.

Under HB 1645 as introduced a non-attorney would have to take the course and pass the exam prior to even being nominated or running for office.

HB 1645 has been filed in the House Judiciary Committee.

This isn’t the first time legislators have attempted amend the state’s constitution to require non-attorney pass the exam before they can run for office. Similar efforts were made on the Senate side (SB 521 of 2015; SB 170 of 2013; SB 57 of 2011; SB 1119 of 2009; SB 696 of 2007), none of which advanced out of committee.

Wisconsin: bills to require municipal court judges be attorneys re-introduced

Wisconsin legislators are once again considering the question of whether or not municipal court judges in the state should be required to be attorneys.

AB 33 filed in January 2017 and SB 294 filed in mid-June both provide that a person may not qualify for election or appointment as a municipal court judge unless he or she is an attorney licensed to practice in Wisconsin and a member in good standing of the State Bar of Wisconsin.

The is the latest effort to mandate that municipal court judges be attorneys. In the 2011/2012 session, AB 101 was heard in committee be failed to advance; Gavel to Gavel coverage of that effort and hearing can be found here. The identical SB 318 was never even taken up on committee.

There the matter lay for almost 4 years until AB 230 of 2015/2016. It too was never taken up in committee.

Texas: House approves 133-2 constitutional amendment to alter qualifications for judicial office; efforts to extend terms and give legislature power to set additional qualifications stricken

Last week the Texas House overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment to change the qualifications for the state’s top courts.

Under HJR 10 of 2017 as amended and approved by the House:

Appellate Courts: HJR 10 requires

  • 10 years of service as a judge of a state court or county court created by the Legislature (previously “court of record”) or
  • 10 years as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 10 years.
  • During the 10-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

There was a requirement that the 10 years of service be “consecutive”, however that was amended out on the House floor.

Although addressing only the Supreme Court, other provisions in the state’s constitution provide that judges and chief/presiding judges of the Court of Criminal Appeals (Art. V, Sec. 4) and the Court of Appeals must have the “same qualifications” as their Supreme Court counterparts (Art. V, Sec. 6).

District Court:

  • 6 years (up from 4 years) of service as a judge of a court in the state or
  • 6 years (up from 4 years) as a practicing lawyer licensed in Texas.
  • Some combination of the above adding up to 6 years (up from 4 years).
  • During the 6-year span(s), the person’s license to practice law cannot have been revoked, suspended, or subject to a probated suspension.

New Legislative Power to Add Qualifications: The plan as approved by the House Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence Committee provided the Legislature could by general law require additional qualifications to be eligible to serve as an appellate or District Court judge. Oklahoma has a similar provision in their constitution, discussed here. A floor amendment to HJR 10 removed that provision from the bill.

Increase in Terms: HJR 10 as introduced would also have extended the terms for the courts, with the appellate courts going from 6 years to 8 years and the District Courts from 4 years to 6 years. Those provisions were removed in committee.


Michigan: repeal of mandatory judicial retirement age advances out of House committee; would allow judges older than 70 to run for or be appointed to judicial office

Michigan’s mandatory retirement age is something of a misnomer. A judge who reaches the age of 70 isn’t forced to retire that day, month, year, or even term, they just aren’t allowed to run for or be appointed to judicial office again. Or, as the state’s constitution puts it

No person shall be elected or appointed to a judicial office after reaching the age of 70 years.

Under HJR G of 2017, however, that restriction would be repealed. The repeal plan advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on April 25.

HJR G is just the latest attempt to bring forth such a repeal.

  • HJR S and SJR J of 2015/2016 House: Died in committee. Senate: Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • SJR F of 2013/2014 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • SJR U of 2011/2012 Approved by Senate Judiciary Committee. Died on Senate floor.
  • HJR FF of 2007/2008 Filed, never taken up.


Rhode Island: House committee holds hearing on bills that would guarantee certain trial court judgeships & 3 seats on Judicial Nominating Commission to “persons of color”

A hearing was held earlier this week on a series of bills filed to address diversity in the Rhode Island judiciary. Video of the hearing before the House Judiciary Committee is here, starts at around 38:15 and ends at around 44:00. During testimony the author of the bills asserted that of Rhode Island’s 85 judges, only 4 were “of color” and that the Judicial Nominating Commission had demonstrated bias in the past against persons of color.

The bills were

HB 5301 requires the judicial selection commission actively and aggressively solicit members of color to apply for judicial appointments, including practicing members of the Rhode Island Bar residing in border states.

HB 5302 provides any trial court seat currently filled by a “person of color” can only be filled in the future by another “person of color.”

HB 5303 would guarantee at least one-third of the seats on the 9-member Judicial Nominating Commission go to “persons of color” and require the governor to make the corresponding appointments.

The House Judiciary committee recommended the measures be held for further study.

Florida: House votes to send term limits for appellate courts to voters by 1 vote; constitutional amendment now goes to Senate

A plan to impose term limits on Florida appellate judges narrowly passed the House earlier today. HJR 1 needed 60% (72 votes) to advance, it got only 73 votes vs. 46 no votes. By comparison, the 2016 version (HJR 197) cleared with 76 yes votes.

HJR 1 as approved by the House limits appellate judges (Supreme Court and District Courts of Appeal) to 12 consecutive years in office and prohibits them from being reappointed for 1 year after leaving office. It is specifically not retroactive and does not count any prior years of service on a court against a judge (“time served by the justice or district court judge in that office prior to January 9, 2019, shall not be included in the calculation of the total number of consecutive years served in that office.”)

The constitutional amendment now goes to the Senate.