Supreme Court judicial retention election may be struck down

Posted February 18, 2016

— A new law that would allow Supreme Court judges to run in retention elections is on its way to being struck down.

The three-judge Superior Court panel that heard a challenge to the law earlier this week has notified attorneys on both sides of the case that they have found for those seeking to upend the law.

"The court did notify our attorneys today that it is granting the plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment," said Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office.

Michael Crowell, an attorney for Sabra Faires, a long-time legislative staffer who challenged the law, confirmed the court had relayed the same message to him.

Attorneys in the case would not offer further comment because there is no written decision yet.

"We argued and certainly believe that the 2015 legislation is unconstitutional," Crowell said.

The 2015 law allows sitting Supreme Court justices to run unopposed for re-election. Instead, voters would be asked whether they should be retained in office or not. New candidates would be able to run for the court post only if voters chose to turn out the sitting justice.

Practically speaking, the new law gives incumbent Associate Justice Bob Edmunds a much easier path to keeping his seat.

Faires challenged the law, arguing that such a change would require amending the state constitution, not merely passing a new law. Her case also argued that a retention referendum is not an election because it has only one candidate, and further, that the change adds a new qualification – incumbency – for candidacy for the Supreme Court.

It's unclear whether the three-judge panel sided with one or both of those arguments. However, the likely ruling means more uncertainty for an already roiled election season. Lawmakers are sitting in special session this week to redraw the maps used for congressional districts following a federal court ruling.


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