Carrying guns into courthouses: Arkansas moving legislation, Texas debating, North Dakota rejected

Continuing a trend that’s been moving nationally over the last several years, efforts have been pressed in this legislative session to expand those people who are allowed to carry weapons into courthouses.


Current law (Arkansas Code § 5-73-306(5) & (6)) puts forth a general ban on concealed handgun permit holders carrying a firearm into a courthouse (5) or courtroom (6). Last week the Arkansas Senate Judiciary Committee approved SB 159, a plan to allow allows any county employee with a concealed carry permit to bring their gun into the courthouse that contains their primary place of employment. More than just the courthouse, the person would be permitted to carry into

Any courthouse, courthouse annex or other building owned, leased, or regularly used by a county for conducting court proceedings or housing a county office

The Arkansas Senate could vote on this proposal as early as today.

Meanwhile the Arkansas House approved earlier in March a more limited bill (HB 1626) that allows elected officials with a concealed carry permit to carry into courthouses. That bill was approved March 12 on an 80-4 vote.

North Dakota

Current law (62.1-02-05) makes it a crime to possess a firearm at a “public gathering” which includes courthouses and other “publicly owned or operated buildings.” HB 1157 as introduced would have permitted any elected official with a concealed weapons license to carry into such “publicly owned or operated buildings” with their weapon.

The House Judiciary Committee approved a modified version: the ban on handgun carrying would still apply but only in areas designated and made a “secured court facility”

“Secured court facility” means a building or portion of a building in which court proceedings occur and in which access is not permitted unless an individual passes through equipment that detects weapons and is staffed by armed security personnel.

The language is very similar to a Kansas law enacted a few years ago that used the term “adequate security” instead of “secured court facility.” The only way a court would be able to prohibit carrying weapons into a courthouse area was if there was the resources to provide for scanners and armed security. The amended bill was rejected by the House Judiciary Committee 5-8 but advanced to the full House, where it was rejected on a narrow 45-47 vote in February.


Texas Penal Code Sec. 46.03(a)(3) provides

A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly possesses or goes with a firearm, illegal knife, club, or prohibited weapon listed in Section 46.05(a)…on the premises of any government court or offices utilized by the court, unless pursuant to written regulations or written authorization of the court.

Two bills on this subject, one of which is set for a hearing tomorrow, would provide exemptions to this restriction and allow county employees or officials to carry into the courthouses. Texas HB 2241 would allow a “county officer” or “county employee” to possess a firearm in a courthouse. The county officer would need to have a concealed handgun permit; a county employee would need both a permit and the permission from both the local governing body and the county officer who supervises the employee.

An alternative bill (HB 3007) would be limited to county and court clerks only that possess a concealed handgun permit. No additional permissions would be required.

North Dakota: hearing today on giving another 4 years of life to the state’s 27 year old “Temporary” Court of Appeals

When North Dakota rewrote its judiciary article in 1976 (Amendment 3) and then heavily amended it again in 1980 (Amendment 5) it declined to create an intermediate appellate court (typically called a Court of Appeals in other states), instead leaving the option for the legislature to create “such other courts as may be provided by law.”

One such court was the Temporary Court of Appeals, established in 1987 with a sunset date of 1990.  It is notable that the court is truly “temporary”; it is only constituted and judges named to it when the number of appeals disposed in the state’s Supreme Court exceeds 250 and the Chief Justice certifies the Temporary Court of Appeals is needed. Judges are named to temporary panels of the court “for a time certain, not to exceed one year from the date of assignment, or specifically for one or more cases on the docket of the supreme court.” Once the cases are completed or the time ends, the panel disbands.

As such, there have been years when the court simply did not operate. Nevertheless, the legislature has continued to reauthorize the court several times usually for four years at a stretch (the exception was in 1993 when the legislature only authorized a 2-year extension). This year’s extension (to 2020) takes the form on HB 1076 which was scheduled for a hearing today before the House Judiciary Committee.





North Dakota: Should courts be mandated to sit outside of cities or should the supreme court have flexibility in placement?

It may sound mundane, but the question of where courts should be located at has been a contested issue for centuries. Sending judges out the rural hinterlands was one of the mandates found in the Magna Carta in 1215 as agreed to by King John.

We ourselves, or in our absence abroad our chief justice, will send two justices to each county four times a year, and these justices, with four knights of the county elected by the county itself, shall hold the assizes in the county court, on the day and in the place where the court meets.

The counter argument to such judicial postings has been that most cases are not far out in rural areas but closer to the urban centers.

When North Dakota created its modern court system in 1991, eliminating the various County Courts in favor of a single District Court, the legislature mandated that at least 30% of judges be placed outside of cities. (N.D. Cent. Code 27-05-08). Last week in a 13-0 vote in committee and 90-1 in House that provision was moved closer to repeal (HB 1166) and characterized as an “anachronism” of the County Court merger. Instead, the Supreme Court would be free to establish by rule where the judge’s chambers are to be located.

HB 1166 now goes to the Senate for consideration.


North Dakota State of the Judiciary: lack of legislative resources for court staff, judges has led to “conveyor-belt justice”

On January 7, North Dakota Chief Justice Gerald VandeWalle delivered his State of the Judiciary Address to the state’s Legislative Assembly.

From a procedural standpoint, no resolution was adopted. The Senate’s Assistant Majority Leader made a motion to join the House in its Chamber for a joint session. The House’s Assistant Majority Leader made effectively the same motion 30 minutes later.

The speech itself (a copy of which can be found here) included

Continue reading North Dakota State of the Judiciary: lack of legislative resources for court staff, judges has led to “conveyor-belt justice”

Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 4

This fourth in a series of posts looks at legislative efforts to change the civil jurisdiction thresholds in state limited and general jurisdiction courts in the last decade. For a listing of all current civil jurisdiction thresholds, click here.

New Mexico to South Carolina below the fold.
Continue reading Changing civil jurisdiction thresholds – Part 4

Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 5

This fifth installment looks at efforts to change state constitutional grants of rulemaking authority to courts of last resort, typically called the “supreme court”, or judicial councils.

My colleagues here at the National Center have a listing of all such provisions here.

New Mexico to South Carolina below the fold.

Continue reading Efforts to change state constitutions to remove/alter Judicial Council or Supreme Court rulemaking authority – Part 5

North Dakota: Interim Judiciary Committee looks at creating a “one fee” system for criminal convictions

The North Dakota Legislature’s interim Judiciary Committee meets yesterday (July 1). On the agenda were several items, including the question of court fees. During the 2013 the legislature considered SB 2078 which would have consolidated seven different fees imposed by courts in criminal cases into a single fee, the amount of which would vary based upon the grade of the offense. Concerns were voiced, however, over the consolidation of the check fee and victim witness fee into this new “one fee” system; such fees presently went to or remained with the locality.

Ultimately SB 2078 was turned into a request that these subjects be studied for the 2015 session.

During the 2013-14 interim, the legislative management shall consider studying the assessment of fees by courts, the feasibility and desirability of combining various court fees, and whether courts should be mandated to impose fees established by statute. The legislative management shall report its findings and recommendations, together with any legislation required to implement the recommendations, to the sixty – fourth legislative assembly

One of the key elements to come out of the prior hearings in January 2014 and May 2014 was the victim witness fees that fund local victim witness program coordinators or can be used to fund local domestic violence programs. Two draft bills on the subject were discussed but not yet online.


Several state legislatures have empowered chief justices, supreme courts to handle natural disasters in recent years

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks states began the process of dealing with the potential for courts to be shut down for days at a time. Hurricanes Katrina and Rita extended that potential closure to weeks. As a result in the last decade state legislatures have considered and enacted various bills to empower chief justices and supreme courts to make emergency declarations, allowing for the moving of courts and the tolling/suspension of some deadlines. (See this report I wrote in 2010 on all such statutes at the time).

In light of today’s “arctic vortex” shutting down most of the middle part of the country, below is a review of laws recently enacted on the subject, including North Dakota whose new 2013 law may be put to use for the first time today.

Connecticut HB 5539 (2010) Provides Chief Justice may take any action necessary in the event of a (as defined by statute) major disaster, emergency, civil preparedness emergency, disaster emergency, or a public health emergency, to ensure the continued efficient operation of the Supreme, Appellate and Superior Courts, the prompt disposition of cases and the proper administration of judicial business. Such necessary action may include: (1) Establishing alternative locations to conduct judicial business in the event that one or more court locations cannot be used, (2) suspending any judicial business that is deemed not essential by the Chief Justice, and (3) taking any other appropriate action necessary to ensure that essential judicial business is effectively handled by the courts.

Delaware SB 25 (2009) Provides for the operation of the courts in the event of an emergency due to natural or manmade causes that destroys or severely damages one or more court facilities or severely impacts the ability to staff the courts. Grants the Chief Justice the authority to declare a judicial emergency when there are emergency circumstances affecting one or more court facilities. Provides the order declaring a judicial emergency shall be limited to an initial duration of 30 days, but may be modified or extended for additional 30 day periods. Provides Chief Justice may also 1) Order that a court may operate in a county other than the county in which it is normally located. 2) Extend statutes of limitations and time periods prescribed by statute as well as those time limitations prescribed by court rule or administrative directive which the Chief Justice already has the authority to extend pursuant to his authority under Art. IV, Section 13 of the Delaware Constitution 3) Declare that specific proceedings not normally conducted by audiovisual device may be conducted in this manner. When such usage is not otherwise authorized by statute or court rule, an explanation of the compelling state interest in such usage shall be included in the order and 4) Take such other actions as the Chief Justice reasonably believes necessary for the continued operation of the courts during a judicial emergency. Provides that the host county shall be a proper venue for proceedings. Establishes provisions of this law shall preempt and supersede but not repeal any conflicting provisions of any other provision of law.

Georgia HB 1294 (2008) Allows Chief Justice to extend judicial emergencies beyond normal limitations if a public health emergency exists. Emergency declaration may remain in place for as long as the public health emergency exists.

Georgia HB 339 (2011) Revises the courts to which a challenge of a quarantine or vaccination order may be brought and manner of appealing orders concerning such challenges. Removes chief judge of the court of appeals’ power to declare judicial emergencies. Provides extensions of judicial emergencies by chief justice may only last as long as governor has declared state of emergency.

Hawaii HB 1983 (2006) Provides during a period of civil defense emergency proclaimed by the governor, the chief justice shall be authorized to order the suspension, tolling, extension, or granting of relief from deadlines, time schedules, or filing requirements imposed by otherwise applicable statutes, rules, or court orders, in civil or criminal cases or administrative matters, in any judicial circuit affected by the governor’s proclamation. Provides chief justice shall determine the judicial circuits so affected.

New Hampshire SB 370 (2008) Grants the chief justice of the supreme court the power to enter orders to suspend, toll, or otherwise grant relief from time deadlines imposed by statutes and rules of procedure, for a 21-day period, in the event of a declared state of emergency. Permits the legislature to terminate such orders by concurrent resolution.

New York AB 6921 / SB 2849 (2009) Repeals most existing law related to judicial emergencies. Provides if a court location is unsafe or impractical for the holding of a trial court, then the Governor may by order appoint another place for the temporary holding of court after consulting with the Chief Judge or his or her designee if practicable. Provides for the Court of Appeals and for trial courts where the Governor has not acted, the relocation power would fall to the Chief Judge. Provides for intermediate appellate courts ( i.e. Appellate Division and Appellate Terms of Supreme Court), the relocation power would fall to the Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division after consulting with the Chief Judge or his or her designee. Provides all temporary relocations must be to the most proximate place that the term of court safely and practicably can preside, and should be consistent with applicable State and local disaster preparedness plans. Provides for trial courts, temporary relocations must be after consultation with relevant local leaders (e.g., county executives or mayors) if practicable. Provides for relocation orders would expire within 30 days but could be renewed for successive periods of 30 days each in like fashion as an original order. Provides regardless where a court temporarily sits, the court would continue to preside on behalf of its original jurisdiction (i.e. judicial department, judicial district, county, city, etc.) and the same substantive and procedural laws (e.g. governing venue, jury selection, papers and appeals) would apply as if the court were not relocated. Provides if a court is relocated temporarily outside its original jurisdiction, then facility costs would not be borne by the receiving locality but instead would become State costs charged to the Office of Court Administration. Memorializes the Chief Judge’s emergency relocation powers as provided above. Recognizes the continuing obligation of the State Disaster Preparedness Commission and local disaster preparedness commissions to insure that the disaster preparedness plans for which they are responsible take appropriate account of the provisions of this measure. (See also AB 10616 / SB 6900 of 2008)

North Carolina HB 1269 (2009) Allows courts to be closed for “catastrophic conditions” and defines the term. Allows Chief Justice to extend certain deadlines for “catastrophic conditions” and to issue any emergency directives necessary to ensure the continuing operation of essential trial or appellate court functions for 30 days, subject to 30 day renewals.

North Dakota HB 1073 (2013) Grants supreme court power to declare judicial emergencies. Allows for supreme court to toll statutes/deadlines. Does not allow for tolling or extension of deadlines or requirements imposed by U.S. or North Dakota constitution.

Oregon HB 2322 (2007) Provides Chief Justice may designate locations in the state for the sitting of circuit courts in the event of an emergency and that such locations designated need not be in the circuit court’s judicial district.

Oregon SB 270 (2009) Grants Chief Justice power to establish procedures for closing courts in emergencies and to establish standards for determining when courts are closed for purposes of ORCP 10, ORS 174.120 and other rules and laws that refer to periods of time when courts are closed.

South Dakota HB 1093 (2007) Allows Chief Justice to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from deadlines, time schedules, or filing requirements imposed by otherwise applicable statutes, rules, or court orders, whether in civil cases, criminal cases, administrative matters or any other legal proceedings as determined necessary.

Tennessee SB 3660 / HB 3060 (2008) Specifies that if an appellate court declares a disaster pursuant to applicable court rules, then all statutes of limitation and repose will be extended by the same number of days that the applicable filing deadlines are extended with deadlines to be extended only in county in which disaster is declared.

Texas HB 1861 (2009) Authorizes the Supreme Court of Texas to modify or suspend procedures for the conduct of any court proceeding affected by a disaster during the pendency of a disaster declared by the governor and sets forth contingencies that provide for such action by another court or judge if a disaster prevents the supreme court from acting. Authorizes the local rules of administration that must be adopted by district and statutory county court judges in each county to provide for a coordinated response for the transaction of essential judicial functions in the event of a disaster. Includes as a purpose of the Texas Disaster Act of 1975 clarifying and strengthening the role of the judicial branch of state government in prevention of, preparation for, response to, and recovery from disasters.

Virginia HB 883 / SB 127 (2010) Sets out a procedure for the Supreme Court to follow in entering an order declaring a judicial emergency when there is a disaster as defined in the Commonwealth’s Emergency Services and Disaster Law. Permits the judicial emergency order to suspend, toll, extend, or otherwise grant relief from time limits or filing requirements in any court affected by the order and allows designation of a neighboring jurisdiction as proper venue for civil and criminal proceedings.

North Dakota Legislative Year in Review: giving supreme court powers to toll deadlines in emergencies


HB 1073 Grants supreme court power to declare judicial emergencies. Allows for supreme court to toll statutes/deadlines. Does not allow for tolling or extension of deadlines or requirements imposed by U.S. or North Dakota constitutions.

HB 1074 Specifies the chair of the court facilities advisory committee is the state court administrator. Allows state court administrator to serve multiple three-year terms.

HB 1075 Removes requirement that full time judicial referees must be appointed in every judicial district. Specifies the presiding judge of the district is to appoint referees and make assignments.

HB 1417 Increases small claims jurisdiction from $10,000 to $15,000.

SB 2076 Provides that for judgeships created in 2010, judges to continue to hold office until the next general election following appointment and if elected holds office for the remainder of the term and until a successor is elected and duly qualified.

SB 2078 Directs legislative management study of the assessment of fees by courts, the feasibility and desirability of combining various court fees, and whether courts should be mandated to impose fees established by statute.

SB 2145 Allows all municipal court judges, not just those with law license, to carry weapons into courthouses.

SB 2272 Deletes statute related to district court reporters and bailiffs.

SB 2299 Expands various campaign finance laws, in particular those related to political committees, to judicial races.

Two 2014 initiatives currently circulating would directly affect the courts

In addition to the items already put onto the 2014 ballot by state legislatures affecting the courts, there are at least two initiatives circulating that could make alterations as well.


Initiative 2014-032 would amend the state’s constitution and put in provisions for campaign contribution limits. For state races and all judicial races, individuals would be limited to contributing a maximum of $2,600 to a candidate.

It is not clear whether signatures are being collected on the measure.

North Dakota

A re-run of a 2006 initiative may be on the ballot in 2014. Called the Parental Rights Initiative, the measure would require courts in custody cases give a presumption in favor of equal parenting time, rights, decision-making, and responsibilities, plus “equal primary residential responsibility.” The Initiative would require that the court presume all parents are fit and allow the court to depart from equal parenting time only with “written findings of fact and conclusions of law.”

The 2014 measure includes elements of the 2006 Shared Parenting Initiative which would have required joint legal and joint physical custody of children absent a finding of parental unfitness and requiring courts grant “equal time sharing” to both parents in a custody case. That measure lost 56%-44%.

The 2014 initiative also stems from a similar one adopted at the county level, which was challenged by the state’s attorney general as being preempted by state law. The leader of the 2006 state initiative attempted to use the county-adopted imitative to void his custody agreement before the state’s courts struck down the county statute.