A plan to restructure North Carolina’s entire judicial election map was approved in committee earlier this week but appears to have been blocked from a floor vote.
HB 717 as originally filed in April would have altered a few judicial election districts. The amendment, offered according to news reports with little or no notice in the House Judiciary I committee, would have instead restructured all judicial divisions and districts in the state. Opponents accused the sponsors of wanting to gerrymander the judicial districts in favor of Republicans. The lead author claimed he was correcting an existing pro-Democratic gerrymander of the districts. The author did acknowledge during the committee hearing that the new maps were drawn without input from judges, prosecutors (whose lines would also be redrawn), court clerks, or the state’s Administrative Office of the Courts.
Although the plan did come out of committee, objections to the bill swiftly reduced the odds of a floor vote in the House this session and HB 717 has been sent back to committee (Elections and Ethics Law).
A set of bills up for a hearing next week in the Michigan Senate’s Judiciary Committee would require that judges/courts that want to operate special problem solving dockets would have to be certified by the state court administrator’s office.
SB 435 (drug courts), SB 436 (DWI/sobriety courts), SB 437 (mental health courts), and SB 438 (veterans courts) provide that existing or new problem solving courts/dockets must be certified (“The state court administrative office shall establish the procedure for certification.”) or will be shut down starting January 1, 2018.
The bills are “tie-barred”, meaning for one to pass, they must all pass.
The hearing is set for June 13.
North Carolina’s governor has vetoed an effort by the legislature to reduce that state’s intermediate appellate court (Court of Appeals) from 15 judges down to 12.
The veto message reads in operative part
Fewer judges will increase the court’s workload and delay the people’s access to timely appears and decisions. The bill is an attempt by a political party to stack the Court of Appeals. Additionally, I believe the legislation is unconstitutional.”
As I noted here, opponents claim the bill is a political move by the Republican controlled legislature to avoid giving the Democratic governor the power to fill interim vacancies set to occur as several members of the court are forced into mandatory retirement in the next few years. Proponents argue that that Court of Appeals’ caseload has dropped thus there isn’t the need for as many judges. They also note provisions in the bill that shift some cases directly to the Supreme Court.
The bill now goes back to the House which has scheduled an override vote for April 26.
A plan to redistrict the Oklahoma Supreme Court appears nearing House and Senate agreement, with the House’s plan to require justices from more rural counties winning the day.
Currently the 9 members of the Supreme Court are appointed from 9 districts, but run statewide for yes/no retention elections.
HB 1925 as approved by the House last month and by the Senate Judiciary committee earlier this week would provide that starting in November 2017
- 5 justices would be appointed, 1 for each Congressional District as constituted on November 1, 2017. For transition purposes, the current seats from Districts 1, 3, 4, 5, and 6 would turn into Congressional-District based seats.
- 4 justices appointed at-large, however 2 justices must come from counties with a population of less than 75,000. The current seats from Districts 2, 7, 8, and 9 would transition to at-large.
The justices would still run statewide for yes/no retention elections.
Plans to reduce the North Carolina Court of Appeals from 15 members down to 12 have cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee having been previously approved by the full House.
HB 239 would reduce the court from 15 to 12 by attrition; no judges would lose their office. Opponents claim it is a political move by the Republican controlled legislature to avoid giving the Democratic governor the power to fill interim vacancies set to occur as several members of the court are forced into mandatory retirement in the next few years. Proponents argue that that Court of Appeals’ caseload has dropped thus there isn’t the need for as many judges. They also note provisions in the bill that shift some cases directly to the Supreme Court.
HB 239 now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.
Following expansion by 2 seats to the Arizona and Georgia Supreme Courts in the last 2 years, a member of the Louisiana House is moving to expand by law that state’s top court by 2 seats, but needs a supermajority to do it.
As I noted when this came up in Georgia, Louisiana is generally a “specific number” state: the state’s constitution specifies that the court is to be made up of 7 justices, or more specifically a “chief justice and six associate justices.” Moreover, justices of the Louisiana Supreme Court are elected by district.
However, the legislature is free, by 2/3rds vote, to alter the districts and the number of justices
The state shall be divided into at least six supreme court districts, and at least one judge shall be elected from each. The districts and the number of judges assigned to each on the effective date of this constitution are retained, subject to change by law enacted by two-thirds of the elected members of each house of the legislature.
Into this comes HB 406 of 2017. It would amend the existing statute (R.S. 13:101) to provide for 9 supreme court districts, dividing District 4 in a District 4-A and District 4-B and dividing District 5 into a 5-A and 5-B, with 5-B made entirely of East Baton Rouge Parish and 5-A of the rest of the existing District 5.
The bill has been prefiled in the House Committee on House and Governmental Affairs.
A 2015 plan to create a Tax Court in Washington (discussed here) composed of sitting Court of Appeals judges was hobbled with concerns that the state’s constitution didn’t give the legislature the power to create such a court. Now the 2017 version of the plan is back, this time with a constitutional amendment and some changes.
SJR 8209 amends the state’s judiciary article to authorize the creation of a Tax Court and spells out in general its jurisdiction. It provides that decisions of the Tax Court would go directly to the state supreme court. Finally, it provides that the number, election, terms, and compensation of Tax Court judges would be left to the legislature.
SB 5866 fleshes out SJR 8209’s provisions and appears to be similar to the 2015 plan. It abolishes the existing State Board of Tax Appeals in favor of the new Tax Court.
The Court would be made up of two “departments”.
- The Main Department would consist of 3 judges who may individually or as a panel hear tax appeals. All decisions of the Main Department would have to be rendered within 6 months of submission, although the court could extend this for good cause an additional 3 months.
Unlike the 2015 plan, which called for using Court of Appeals judges, the 2017 plan would have the 3 judges elected to the Court in their own right to 6 year terms. It appears the judges would be elected by Court of Appeals district.
The judges would have to have “at least five years’ experience as an attorney practicing in Washington state and local tax law.” A similar provision created some controversy in 2015 when it was questioned who would determine whether a person met this requirement.
- The Commissioner Department would be for “cost-effective and informal” reviews and would include a voluntary mediation system. Commissioners would be appointed by the judges of the Main Department.
A hearing on the implementing legislation (SB 5866) is set for tomorrow (March 14) in the Senate Law & Justice Committee. A hearing on both the bill and constitutional amendment are set for March 16.