Alabama in 2014 is joining a long line of states that have considered giving the courts more flexibility in allocating judgeships. The Senate Judiciary Committee has passed SB 292, allowing the Supreme Court to move judgeships made vacant due to death, resignation, etc. The bill echoes similar efforts introduced in Missouri and Wyoming in recent years and enacted in Iowa as SB 326 of 2011, which I discussed here.
The current practice in almost every state is for the legislature to pass, and the governor to sign, a bill to move a judgeship from one county or area to another. Since at least the 1900s there have been those who have advocated for allowing the state’s supreme court or chief justice, as administrative head of the branch, to make such moves. SB 292, as introduced, opted for giving that power to the chief justice who would reallocate based on recommendations made by the existing Judicial System Study Commission which has been in place since 1971 and is made up of over 30 people: 6 members of the House, 6 Senators, the state’s 16 member judicial conference , the Lt. Governor, the Speaker of the House, the Governor’s legal advisor, and the Attorney General’s designee.
The version approved by the Senate Judiciary committee differs in two key areas. First, the reallocation would be on the recommendation of a new, much smaller, Judicial Resources Allocation Commission made up of 12 people: the Chief Justice (chair), the governor’s legal advisor, 3 Circuit Judges, 3 District Judges, 3 attorneys, and the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts. Second, the decision to reallocate would be a decision made by the entire Supreme Court together, not just the chief justice alone.
SB 292 as amended was approved 11-0 by the Senate Judiciary Committee on 1/28/14. It remains pending in the Senate.