Clyde Steele

Justice should be fair and balanced, that is until it comes to the state Supreme Court system in this country: 

The Explorer News pointed out a few weeks ago that Governor Ducey had gotten his wish with two new Supreme Court Justices.  But what exactly did the citizens’ of Arizona get with these two new justices, besides the added expense, or perhaps a more conservative court? So lets look at exactly what these two justices mean to the citizens of Arizona.

Outside of the fact the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court Scott Bales went on record saying  “Additional justices are not required by the court’s caseload,” and Chief Justice Scott Bales wrote to Ducey in May, shortly before the governor chose to sign the measure anyway. 

“And an expansion of the court (whatever people may otherwise think of its merits) is not warranted when other court-related needs are underfunded.” This from a report from the Capitol Media Service on Aug. 6 of this year.  So we have the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court going on record telling the Governor that two additional justices are not needed.  But others tell a different story of why two new Justices are not needed.

Senator Steve Farley of Tucson said, he sees something more sinister in the maneuver saying, “no one including the current justices on the court is asking for the expansion. The only reason why you would add justices to the court is to pack the court for political reasons. This is the executive making a power grab over the judiciary. If you don’t like the decisions the Supreme Court is making, you don’t pack the court.” 

And Senator Martin Quezada of Phoenix said, “the numbers do not justify an expansion.” He said Arizona has one justice for every 1.3 million residents. By contrast, Quezada said, “California, with seven on its high court, has one justice for every 5.5 million residents.” But Rep. J.D. Mesnard Chandler, who sponsored the new law, said “I’m a strong believer in spreading power out, not concentrating power in the hands of a few. More minds are better than fewer minds.” (Does this mean we should also increase the size of our legislature?) So what’s really behind the expansion of Arizona’s Supreme Court?  For that we should really look at what other states been doing in regards to this issue. Much attention is being paid to the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, but equally partisan battles are being waged for control of state courts around the nation.

In states where voters elect Supreme Court judges, millions of dollars are being spent to reshape the courts for years to come. Judicial watchdogs say spending by national groups overwhelmingly favors judges on the right of the political spectrum, and is mostly aimed at maintaining or improving the courts’ responses to corporate interests while countering state-level spending by labor unions and other interest groups.

Lawmakers are busy too, debating proposals to tip the balance of power by expanding or even reducing their court’s size, or making it easier to impeach judges whose rulings upset the legislative majority. 

There are a number of States that have had or are having on going issues regarding their State Supreme Courts. Such as Wisconsin, Kansas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas.  Either in adding two more Justices to their courts, or trying to limit the power of their Supreme Courts. 

With the effort by some states for restricting voting rights, and re-drawing district maps, it seems all the more important to have a Supreme Court free from any political interference. Or in the case of Kansas, after the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the legislature to restore school funding, the state’s senators approved a bill enabling the impeachment of justices who attempt to “usurp the power” of lawmakers and executive branch officials. 

So where does Arizona and its Governor fit into all this.  And especially the claim that the Governor is not trying to stack our Supreme Court, and he wanted two impartial judges.  So let’s look at his previous statements concerning the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.  Last January Mike Liburdi the governors’ chief counsel said “that the 9th Circuit Court is just too large and takes to long to gain resolution”.  And the Governor insisted, “that the move had nothing to do with the court having a liberal bent”. But the next day Gov. Ducey walked back that statement. Admitting “that there’s an ideological reason of sorts for his push to move Arizona out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.” 

When the governor was in Oro Valley to speak about prop 123 in February this year, I questioned him on this issue of the 9th. And asking him about his contradicting statements concerning the 9th. “That it was too large and takes to long to gain resolution”. And then the next day saying “there’s an ideological reason of sorts for his push to move Arizona out of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals”.  I then asked the governor the following question. “How can you or the Republican Legislature in Arizona, expect the citizens of Arizona to believe in the rule of law, when they and you think that because court cases go against the State, you can just order up a more Conservative Court out of thin air”?  The governor’s reply to this writer was “I want an all Conservative 9th district court for Arizona and four other states”.  I have to give the governor credit; this time he told the truth why exactly he wants a separate 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for Arizona. And it’s all about ideology.

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