OK: state supreme court has struck down several laws as unconstitutional 7-2, so legislator wants to force court to be 9-0 or 8-1 in the future

Recently the Oklahoma Supreme Court has struck down several laws passed by the state’s legislature on 7-2 votes. Of particular note was the July 2015 decision by the court that resulted in the removal of a Ten Commandments display from the State Capitol Grounds as well as a 2013 ruling that struck down the legislature’s tort reform package for violating the state constitution’s “single subject” rule.

The result: a 2016 proposal to require at least an 8-1 or 9-0 vote to overturn state laws.

Under HJR 1063 as prefiled for the 2016 session

in any case in which the constitutionality of legislation enacted by the Legislature is at issue, the vote of the Supreme Court must be unanimous or there must not be more than one dissenting vote for the legislation to be declared unconstitutional. If the vote of the Supreme Court is not unanimous and there is more than one dissenting vote , the legislation shall not be held to be unconstitutional.

Interestingly, the bill does not apply to the state’s other court of last resort (Court of Criminal Appeals).

Only Nebraska (5/7) and North Dakota (4/7) require specific vote totals to find a law unconstitutional by the state’s court of last resort. A few states have quorum-minimums that require a majority of all justices of the court (as opposed to just a majority of the panel of justices hearing the case) are needed to strike down a law.

Arizona

The state’s constitution provides the Supreme Court may sit together (“in banc”) or in panels of 3 judges, however “the court shall not declare any law unconstitutional except when sitting in banc.” (Art. VI, Sec. 2)

Nebraska

The state’s constitution provides “No legislative act shall be held unconstitutional except by the concurrence of five [out of seven] judges.” (Art. V, Sec. 2)

This came up most recently in 2015 regarding a law that allowed “major oil pipeline” carriers to bypass the  regulatory procedures of the Public Service Commission.  (Thompson v. Heineman, 289 Neb. 798; 857 N.W.2d 731). Four judges ruled 1) appellees had standing and 2) the statute in question was unconstitutional. Three dissenting judges found that the five-judge requirement applied to both the questions of standing/jurisdiction and the merits and because there were not 5 votes on standing/jurisdiction the case should have been dismissed.

North Dakota

The state’s constitution provides “the supreme court shall not declare a legislative enactment unconstitutional unless at least four of the [five] members of the court so decide.” (Art. VI, Sec. 4)

This came up most recently in a 2014 case regarding a 2011 statute that addressed medication-induced abortions. (MKB Mgmt. Corp. v. Burdick, 2014 ND 197; 855 N.W.2d 31) The court fractured in a unique pattern

  • Two justices (one regular justice and a trial judge filling in due to a vacancy on the court) found the statute in question violated the ND constitution. Two justices found the statute constitutional under the ND constitution. One justice found the question did not need to be decided under the ND constitution. (2-2-1)
  • Three justices (two regular justices plus the fill-in trial judge) found the statute also violated the Federal constitution. One justice found the statute constitutional under the Federal constitution. One justice found the question was not properly before the court.  (3-1-1)

The court ultimately found “The effect of the separate opinions in this case is that [the statute] is not declared unconstitutional by a sufficient majority…”

Utah

The state’s constitution provides “The Supreme Court by rule may sit and render final judgment either en banc or in divisions. The court shall not declare any law unconstitutional under this constitution or the Constitution of the United States, except on the concurrence of a majority of all [five] justices of the Supreme Court. (Art. VIII, Sec. 2)

Virginia

The state’s constitution is similar to Utah’s: “The Court may sit and render final judgment en banc or in divisions as may be prescribed by law…[N]o law shall be declared unconstitutional under either this Constitution or the Constitution of the United States except on the concurrence of at least a majority of all justices of the Supreme Court.” (Art. VI, Sec. 2)

 

Virginia: bill would create judicial nominating commissions; VA one of only two states where legislature elects judges

Virginia is one of only two states (South Carolina is the other) where the legislature alone elects judges; the governor plays no role other than to fill temporary vacancies. Since 1997 South Carolina has made use of a nominating commission to make recommendations to the legislature and now Virginia may be getting its own version.

SB 355 as introduced would create a 15-member Judicial Nominations Commission to help fill vacancies in the state’s appellate courts. The Commission would be chosen by the legislature and each of the state’s 11 congressional districts would be ensured at least 1 seat. No more than 5 of the 15 members could be current or former attorneys. Unlike the South Carolina model which is made up mostly of legislators, the Virginia version would prohibit members of the General Assembly from serving.

The commission would review candidates and release the names of “not more than three persons”. As I have previously noted several states including South Carolina have made numerous efforts to try and raise their existing 3-names restrictions.

At the local level, SB 355 offers two options to fill trial vacancies:

  1. Creation of local judicial nominating committees: Each member of the General Assembly who represents any portion of the Judicial Circuit in question would be allowed to name 2 committee-members. No more than 30% of the committee could be made up of lawyers. As with the appellate version, the list of names would be limited to no more than three. The list of names would be sent to the House and Senate clerks for submission to the legislature.
  2. Local legislators’ option: the local House and Senate members can come up with their own system for finding candidates to fill vacancies, if they can certify that their alternate system “ensures participation of each delegation member and participation by the general public in the nomination process.”

SB 355 has been filed in the Senate Courts of Justice Committee.

Virginia Legislative Year in Review: increase to mandatory judicial retirement age, but only for some judges

Law

HB 1506 Requires that the guidelines for conditions of all deferred or installment payment agreements for the payment of court-ordered fines or other penalties be reduced to writing as well as posted in the clerk’s office and on the court’s website, if a website is available.

HB 1984 / SB 1196 For appellate judges, increases mandatory judicial retirement age 70 to 73. For trial judges, increases mandatory judicial retirement age 70 to 73 only for those trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015.

SB 789 Permits the Committee on District Courts to adopt an official seal and authorize its use by district court clerks and deputy district clerks.

SB 1048 Provides Capitol Police may provide protection to members of the Court of Appeals (Supreme Court already covered in existing law).

 

Bans on court use of sharia/international law: Enacted in Mississippi; activity in 6 other states; WV considered ban on court use of “karma”

2015 saw some 32 pieces of legislation introduced in 17 states to ban or limit the use by state courts of foreign or international law. Of these, Mississippi saw after 5+ years of trying the enactment of such a ban. HB 177 provides in operative part that

A court, arbitrator, administrative agency or other adjudicative, mediation or enforcement authority shall not enforce a foreign law if doing so would violate a right guaranteed to a natural person by the United States Constitution or the Mississippi Constitution of 1890.

Notable regarding many of these bills is the continued focus on specifically banning the use by state courts of sharia law (Mississippi HB 493, HB 557, HB 622, HB 1216; Oregon SB 176, South Carolina HB 3521, and West Virginia HB 2994). The specific targeting of sharia was held as unconstitutional in a decision by the Tenth Circuit in 2012 which upheld striking down such a sharia-specific constitutional amendment approved by Oklahoma voters in 2010. West Virginia HB 2994 is of particular note here in terms of not just targeting sharia, but “Canon law, Halacha and Karma”, language almost identical to a bill introduced in Arizona 2010 and 2011 and discussed here.

Details on the legislation introduced in 2015 below the fold.

Continue reading Bans on court use of sharia/international law: Enacted in Mississippi; activity in 6 other states; WV considered ban on court use of “karma”

Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Since April’s update on the subject of mandatory judicial retirement age changes there’s been several developments.

Alabama

While the state does not have a retirement age per se, it does prohibit judges from seeking election or being appointed to fill a vacancy if they are above the age of 70. Efforts to raise this to 72 were approved in the House and appeared to have Senate backing before time ran out in the session. Critics argued the constitutional amendment was specifically designed to allow 68 year old Chief Justice Roy Moore to seek one more term in office.

Louisiana

Despite voters in 2014 rejecting a constitutional amendment repealing the mandatory retirement age for most judges in the state, at least some judges will be able to avoid being forced out at 70. Under HB 350 as signed into law, justices of the peace in office as of August 15, 2006 can continue to run for re-election over the age of 70.

Massachusetts

A plan to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges in that state from 70 to 76 was rejected in committee in late April.

North Carolina

Several efforts to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges met with approval in the House but were not taken up by the Senate prior to adjournment. Those bills could come back up in the 2016 session.

Oregon

Voters will get to decide in 2016 whether or not to repeal the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age. Under SJR 4 as approved by the legislature in late June the constitutional provision allowing the legislature to set a retirement age would be stricken.

Virginia

Virginia appellate judges as of today (July 1), will see their mandatory judicial retirement age increase from 70 to 73 under a bill signed into law this spring. However, only those trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73; all other trial judges remain at the mandatory retirement age of 70. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had asked the legislature to amend the bill (HB 1984) to apply the increase to all judges, and the state’s Senate was willing to do so, however the House insisted on the split treatment.

Continue reading Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan may fall apart over what judges get the increase; Oregon Senate unanimously approves repeal; dead in Maryland; small change moving in North Carolina; debated in Massachusetts

Since last month’s update on the subject of mandatory judicial retirement age changes there’s been several developments. The biggest stumbling block: which judges should get the increase in the age?

Maryland

The Senate approved 47-0 a plan (SB 847) to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges from 70 to 73 (original bill called for 75) on March 24. The Senate plan would have applied to all judges after adoption of the amendment. The House, however, had various ideas on how this would impact current judges. The House Judiciary Committee approved amendment 172916/1 which would have allowed any judge that

reaches the age of seventy years before the date that the judge is eligible to be elected, appointed, or reappointed

to stay on to 73 or the end of their current term with the consent of the governor. A later floor amendment (393229/1) added the word “re-elected”

reaches the age of seventy years before the date that the judge is eligible to be elected, re-elected, appointed, or reappointed

The changes occurred on April 9, just days before the legislature adjourned sine die. As a result, the effort failed this year.

Massachusetts

The judges of Massachusetts only fell under the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age in the 1970s (Amendment LVII adopted in 1972)

[U]pon attaining seventy years of age said judges shall be retired.

Starting in 2009 there have been efforts to increase this age to 76. The first two attempts (HB 1640 of 2009/2010 & HB 1826 of 2011/2012) were approved by the Joint Committee on the Judiciary but proceeded no further. HB 68 of 2013/2014 saw rejection by the committee. The bill is now back up as HB 1609 of 2015/2016 and was heard before the Joint Committee on April 15.

North Carolina

The House approved 116-0 on March 25 a bill that would provide a minimal extension to the state’s judicial retirement age. Currently judges must retire on the last day of the month in which they reach 72. Under HB 50 as approved they may serve last day of the year they reach 72.

A counter proposal (HB 205) to extend this to the last day of the year they reach 75. Was approved by the House Judiciary IV committee on March 18 but has remained in locked up in the House Pensions and Retirement committee.

Oregon

On April 15 the Oregon Senate approved 30-0 a plan to eliminate the state’s mandatory retirement age or, to be more precise, repeal the state constitutional provision allowing the legislature to set such an age. SJR 4 would eliminate language from the state constitution that

[A] judge of any court shall retire from judicial office at the end of the calendar year in which he attains the age of 75 years. The Legislative Assembly or the people may by law: Fix a lesser age for mandatory retirement not earlier than the end of the calendar year in which the judge attains the age of 70 years.

The constitutional amendment is now pending on the House Speaker’s desk awaiting committee assignment.

Virginia

After 9 years of trying, a plan to increase the retirement age for at least some judges in Virginia passed the House and Senate, but the decision to increase for some judges and not others may result in a veto by the governor.

At issue under HB 1984 and SB 1196 was what judges should get the increase from 70 to 73. The House/Senate compromise approved provided that

  • all appellate judges effective July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73
  • trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73
  • trial judges elected or appointed prior to July 1, 2015 would still have to retire at 70

The governor, however, issued a “recommendation” to eliminate the three-tired plan (Virginia governors can return a bill without a veto to the legislature “with recommendations for their amendment“). The Senate voted in favor of eliminating the three-tired plan 31-8. The House rejected it 27-63. Local media reports indicate the unamended bill will now go back to the Governor as early as today (Friday) for him to sign or veto.

Continue reading Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan may fall apart over what judges get the increase; Oregon Senate unanimously approves repeal; dead in Maryland; small change moving in North Carolina; debated in Massachusetts

Three states voted Tuesday on increases to mandatory judicial retirement: effort dies 49-21 in Arkansas House when 28 members fail to vote; amended versions advance in AL & MD

The efforts to increase mandatory judicial retirement ages have seen a great deal of activity in the last 24 hours.

  • Alabama’s House approved 64-35 with 1 abstention a plan to increase their age from 70 to 72 after members objected to the original proposed increase to 75. The Alabama provision is not a hard and fast retirement age; instead it addresses the maximum age a judge can be in order to be elected or appointed to a judgeship.
  • Maryland’s Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee effectively had the same idea as their Alabama House counterparts, reducing a planned increase in the mandatory judicial retirement age from 70 to 75 down to 73 instead. The amended plan passed on a 7-3 vote.
  • 28 Arkansas House members left the floor or failed to vote and 2 voted “present” when that state’s effort to increase the retirement age from 70 to 72 came up for a vote. As a result, despite receiving a 49 yes vs. 21 no vote, the bill failed under a provision of the Arkansas constitution that requires a majority of the entire body (51/100) to approve a bill.

Details of all increase efforts below the fold.

Continue reading Three states voted Tuesday on increases to mandatory judicial retirement: effort dies 49-21 in Arkansas House when 28 members fail to vote; amended versions advance in AL & MD