U.S. Supreme Court accepts new case about Delaware judicial selection

On December 6, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case Carney v. Adams, which concerns judicial selection in Delaware, during its October 2019-2020 term. As of December 9, 2019, the court had agreed to hear 58 cases this term.
As of December 2019, when the governor of Delaware filed a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court, Article IV, Section 3 of the Delaware Constitution required that no more than the bare majority of judges on a given Delaware court could be of the same political party. A bare majority is one where the majority party has a one-seat advantage compared to the minority party. On a five-member court, for example, a bare majority would be a 3-2 majority.
James Adams, a retired lawyer, sued the governor of Delaware in federal district court. Adams argued the state’s bare majority requirement “violate[d] his First Amendment right to be considered for public office without regard to his political affiliation.” The governor, in response, argued Adams did not have the legal right to file a lawsuit. A federal magistrate judge ruled the bare majority requirement was unconstitutional.
The governor appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit. In April 2019, a three-judge panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the federal district court’s ruling. The circuit court ruled that the bare majority provision violated the First Amendment. However, it also ruled Adams did not have the legal right, or standing, to challenge certain sections of Article IV, Section 3.
Governor John Carney (D), acting in his official capacity, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. In the petition, the governor argued the 3rd Circuit’s ruling conflicted with decisions in similar cases from the 2nd Circuit, 6th Circuit, and the 7th Circuit. The governor also argued SCOTUS should “reaffirm that federal courts are obligated to respect the States’ sovereign authority to structure their own governments, including by setting qualifications for state judges.”
The issues in this case are: (1) Does the First Amendment invalidate the state’s constitutional bare majority requirement? (2) Was the 3rd Circuit’s ruling in the case incorrect? (3) Does Adams have a demonstrated legal right to sue the government?
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Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at sara.reynolds@ballotpedia.org

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