NC: So how many other states/courts elect their appellate judges in a partisan manner? It’s complicated.

Amid the debate on SB 4 today and the decision to switch North Carolina’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from nonpartisan to partisan races, there’s been a good amount of discussion of how many other states and appellate courts have partisan elections. Numbers have ranged widely. The reason for this is fairly straight forward in that for many states it is not a straight forward answer.

There are 8 states with 9 courts in which at one point or another justices of the supreme court/court of last resort show up with a party label somehow. It was 9 states with 10 courts until 2015 when West Virginia ended partisan races for their Supreme Court of Appeals.

  1. Alabama: partisan primaries and partisan general elections.
  2. Illinois: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 60% “yes to retain” vote.
  3. Louisiana: The state uses a “blanket primary” in which all candidates appear with party labels on the primary ballot. The two top votegetters compete in the general election. Thus in the general election, you could have two Republicans vying against each other for the seat, as occurred most recently in 2016 when Republican James “Jimmy” Genovese defeated fellow Republican Marilyn Castle for the 3rd Supreme Court District (Louisiana elects their justices by district, not statewide).
  4. Michigan: candidates for Supreme Court are nominated by political parties but the actual ballot in November is nonpartisan (i.e. no party labels).
  5. New Mexico: very complicated. When a vacancy occurs on the New Mexico Supreme Court, it is initially filled via merit selection (nominating commission sends list of names to governor, governor picks). The newly appointed justice must then run in a partisan primary and partisan general election but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 57% “yes to retain” vote.
  6. Ohio: Partisan primaries, but nonpartisan general elections.
  7. Pennsylvania: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election (50% “yes to retain” to remain in office).
  8. Texas: Everything is bigger in Texas, including their appellate courts. Texas has two “courts of last resort”: the Supreme Court for civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Both courts use partisan primaries and partisan general elections.

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: GA House approves modified bill; Mississippi bill to ban sharia in divorce cases dies

The latest iterations of efforts to ban state courts from using foreign or international law in general, and sharia law in particular, appear to be stalling in most states. Since last month’s update there have been three pieces of activity, within only 1 bill moving.

Georgia: The House yesterday passed a heavily amended version of HB 171. As introduced, the bill provided

Any tribunal ruling shall be void and unenforceable if the tribunal bases its ruling in whole or in part on any foreign law that would deny the parties the rights and privileges granted under the United States Constitution or the Georgia Constitution.

As amended the bill adds to an existing list of items (O.C.G.A. 9-10-31.1) to be considered by a court when considering the issue of venue and the doctrine of forum non conveniens.

In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss an action or to transfer venue under the doctrine of forum non conveniens, the court shall give consideration to the following factors

whether the forum outside of this state provides for impartial tribunals and procedures that are consonant to the requirements of due process of law as required by the Constitutions of the United States and the State of Georgia.

The bill was approved 165-0.

In Mississippi, which already enacted a foreign law ban in 2015, legislators attempted to enhance the existing law. SB 2400 would have allowed courts to award attorney’s fees to any party opposing recognition or enforcement of foreign law. SB 2595 specifically targeted the use of sharia law in divorce and child custody cases. Both bills died in committee.

Finally, a bill was introduced in Missouri (HB 2507) that dealt with the subject as well.

Full list of bills below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: GA House approves modified bill; Mississippi bill to ban sharia in divorce cases dies

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: reintroduced or active in 12 states; bill moves in SC; threat of impeachment against judges in WV

As I noted last July 2015 saw some 32 pieces of legislation introduced in 17 states to ban or limit the use by state courts of sharia or foreign/international law. 2016 looks to pick up where 2015 left off with a raft of new legislation introduced in 12 states. Of note:

Continued reference to sharia in particular

Notable regarding many of these bills is the continued focus on specifically banning the use by state courts of sharia law (South Carolina HB 3521 as introduced; Missouri HJR 69). The specific targeting of sharia was held as unconstitutional in a decision by the Tenth Circuit in 2012 a sharia-specific constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters in 2010. Perhaps as a result the version adopted by the South Carolina House last week eliminated the word “sharia”. That ruling has not stopped Missouri’s proposal, which is practically a verbatim copy of the Oklahoma 2010 proposal struck down by the Tenth Circuit.

Missouri HJR 69 of 2016

The courts provided for in this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Missouri, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States, provided the law of the other state does not include sharia law, in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or sharia law. The provisions of this section shall apply to all cases before the respective courts, including but not limited to cases of first impression.

Oklahoma HJR 1056 of 2010

The Courts provided for in subsection A of this section, when exercising their judicial authority, shall uphold and adhere to the law as provided in the United States Constitution, the Oklahoma Constitution, the United States Code, federal regulations promulgated pursuant thereto, established common law, the Oklahoma Statutes and rules promulgated pursuant thereto, and if necessary the law of another state of the United States provided the law of the other state does not include Sharia Law , in making judicial decisions. The courts shall not look to the legal precepts of other nations or cultures. Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law. The provisions of this subsection shall apply to all cases before the respective courts including, but not limited to, cases of first impression.

Threat of impeachment

Also of note is a West Virginia version of this bill which threatens impeachment for any judge who violates the provision (“Any decision or ratification of a private agreement that is determined, on the merits, by a judge in this state who relies on any body of religious sectarian law or foreign law is void, is appealable error and is grounds for impeachment and removal from office.”)

List of proposals and their current status below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: reintroduced or active in 12 states; bill moves in SC; threat of impeachment against judges in WV

New North Carolina law expands carrying of guns directly into courtrooms; roundup of guns-in-courts legislation in 2015

I noted back in March the litany of bills that would allow for expanded carrying of firearms into courthouses, and in some cases directly into courtrooms. Since then there’s been a great deal of activity.

In late July North Carolina’s governor signed into law a bill (HB 562) that would allow for prosecutors to carry guns not just into courthouses but directly into courtrooms. Moreover, the no-guns-courthouses policy (specifically that “portion of the building used for court purposes while the building is being used for court purposes.”) already in place no longer applies to administrative law judges or employees of the Department of Public Safety.

At the same time North Carolina was debating expanding guns-in-courthouses, Oregon was moving to restrict. SB 385, as introduced, originally added justice courts and municipal courts to the definition of “court facility” in which firearms and other weapons are prohibited except in specified circumstances. As enacted SB 385 still expands the restriction, allowing municipal court and justice of the peace court judges to ban weapons but only to those portions of the “local court facility” used by the court during the hours in which the court operates. Moreover, in buildings where there are multiple types of court (circuit, municipal, justice of the peace, etc.) the presiding judge of Circuit Court can enforce a ban that cannot be contradicted by an order of the lower court’s judges.

A review of 2015 legislation regarding guns in courts is below the fold.

Continue reading New North Carolina law expands carrying of guns directly into courtrooms; roundup of guns-in-courts legislation in 2015

Ohio: Senate approves compensation commission for judges & others; allows judicial salaries to be diminished only in cases of fiscal emergency

The Ohio Senate yesterday approved a plan (SJR 1) to create a Public Office Compensation Commission with the power to reduce judicial salaries mid-term in cases of fiscal emergency, a departure from a 2014 proposal which would have allowed them to be diminished for any reason.

First, some background.

The idea of a Compensation Commission first gained traction last fall with SJR 9 of 2014. Passed unanimously by the Senate in December 2014 and discussed here, the plan repealed the guarantee that judges’ salaries “shall not be diminished during their term of office” allowing for the Commission to reduce salaries as they deemed needed. This was in stark contrast with Arkansas’ constitutional amendment creating a Commission-system approved by voters the month prior that reiterated that judicial salaries could not be reduced during terms of office.

Under SJR 1 of 2015 the new Ohio Commission would be made up of 9 members

  • 2 appointed by Governor
  • 2 appointed by Senate President
  • 2 appointed by House Speaker
  • 1 appointed by Senate minority leader
  • 1 appointed by House minority leader
  • 1 appointed by Chief Justice

The commission would be allowed to recommend without specific justifications increases or decreases of 3% or an amount equal to the latest changes in the Consumer Price Index. Increases or decreases greater than 3% or the CPI would require specific justifications.

Like the 2014 bill, the 2015 bill does repeal the specific provision in the state’s constitution prohibiting decreases in judicial salaries mid-term and replaces it with the Commission system.

The judges of the supreme court, courts of appeals, courts of common pleas, and divisions thereof, and of all courts of record established by law, shall, at stated times, receive, for their services such compensation as may be provided by law, which shall not be diminished during their term of office for in Article II, Section 20a of this constitution.

However, unlike the 2014 bill, a 2015 committee amendment provided judicial salaries some degree of protection. Such salaries could only be reduced if two conditions are met

  1. The General Assembly passes a bill by a three-fifths vote of the members elected to each house that declares a state of fiscal emergency requiring an in-term decrease in compensation and decreases the compensation amount for every elected public office by the same percentage.
  2. The Governor signs the bill (i.e. no veto overrides)

This is similar to provisions in Alaska, Michigan, and other states which do allow for mid-term reduction of judicial salaries, but only where such reductions impact all officials. The constitution of Ohio’s neighbor Pennsylvania provides “Justices, judges and justices of the peace shall be compensated by the Commonwealth as provided by law. Their compensation shall not be diminished during their terms of office, unless by law applying generally to all salaried officers of the Commonwealth.” (Pa. Const. Art. V, § 16)

SJR 1 has been assigned to the House Rules and Reference Committee.

8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan

With the expecting signing this week of a bill to transition West Virginia judicial races from partisan to nonpartisan, the number of states with partisan judicial races for their courts of last resort (usually called supreme court) will decrease down to 8. A look at those 8 and the efforts to move to nonpartisan races is below. Please note that in some cases alternative proposals, such as a move to merit/commission selection, have also been introduced and drawn much of the legislative focus and interest. This looks exclusively at the proposals to keep judicial elections but make them nonpartisan.

Continue reading 8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan