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Brittony Maag

Brittony Maag is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org

Oklahoma Gov. Stitt appoints state supreme court justice

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Dana Kuehn to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on July 26. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Tom Colbert’s retirement on Feb. 1. Kuehn is Stitt’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Oklahoma law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominating commission puts forward a list of three names from which the governor chooses the appointee. The appointed judge serves an initial term of at least one year before standing for retention in the next general election.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn served as a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. She was appointed to that seat in 2017. From 2006 to 2017, Kuehn was a Tulsa County associate district judge. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a Tulsa County district attorney and as an attorney in private practice with Steidley & Neal, PLLC. Kuehn earned a B.A. in political science from Oklahoma State University and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law.

With her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn became the first woman to serve on both of Oklahoma’s high courts.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those vacancies have been filled.

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New Mexico governor appoints Briana Zamora to fill vacancy on state supreme court

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Briana Zamora to the New Mexico Supreme Court on July 16. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Barbara J. Vigil’s retirement on June 30. Zamora is Gov. Lujan Grisham’s fourth nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Under New Mexico law, midterm state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointments, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which they must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term.

Briana Zamora previously served as a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals from 2018 until her appointment to the state supreme court. She served as a district court judge from 2013 to 2018 and as a metro court judge from 2009 to 2013. Prior to becoming a judge, Zamora worked as an attorney in private practice, as an assistant state attorney general, and as an assistant district attorney. She earned an undergraduate degree in government and psychology from New Mexico State University and a J.D., with honors, from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 10 of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

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U.S. Supreme Court releases October 2021 argument calendar

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) released the argument calendar for its October 2021 sitting on July 13. The court will begin hearing arguments for its 2021-2022 term on Oct. 4, with nine cases currently scheduled for oral argument during the month.

Cases scheduled for the October sitting include:

October 4

  1. Mississippi v. Tennessee
  2. Wooden v. United States

October 5

  1. Brown v. Davenport
  2. Servotronics, Inc. v. Rolls-Royce PLC

October 6

  1. United States v. Zubaydah

October 12

  1. Cameron v. EMW Women’s Surgical Center, P.S.C.
  2. Hemphill v. New York

October 13

  1. United States v. Tsarnaev
  2. Babcock v. Saul

To date, SCOTUS has agreed to hear 31 cases during its 2021-2022 term. Of those, 20 have not yet been scheduled for argument, and two cases were dismissed. During its 2020-2021 term, the court agreed to hear oral arguments in 62 cases.

Additional reading:

Supreme Court cases, October term 2020-2021

History of the Supreme Court

Supreme Court of the United States



Governors appoint new supreme court justices in two states

Alaska and Arizona have new state supreme court justices after appointments from their respective governors. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 7, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the Arizona Supreme Court on July 8.

Alaska

A seat on the Alaska Supreme Court became vacant when former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30, 2021. Gov. Dunleavy selected Jennifer Stuart Henderson for the seat from a list of three finalists forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). Henderson is Gov. Dunleavy’s second nominee to the five-member supreme court.

On July 1, Dunleavy asked the AJC to reconsider its list of nominees and put forward a new slate to fill the vacancy. However, under the council’s bylaws, it may not reconsider nominees that have been sent to the governor except in specific circumstances. Ultimately, Dunleavy appointed Henderson from the original slate of three names put forward by the AJC.

Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Henderson served as a judge on the Alaska superior court. She was appointed to the superior court in 2012 by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Her career experience also includes working as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage and as an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Farley & Graves. After law school, she served as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Henderson earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.

Arizona

A seat on the Arizona Supreme Court became vacant when former Justice Andrew W. Gould retired on April 1, 2021. Gov. Ducey selected Kathryn Hackett King for the seat from a slate of nominees put forward by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Before her appointment to the supreme court, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. She also served as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. From 2015 to 2017, King served as the deputy general counsel to Gov. Ducey. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduation from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. She is the fifth woman in Arizona history to serve on the state supreme court.

King earned a B.A. in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.

In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, nine of those 14 vacancies have been filled.

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Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for June 2021

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from June 1 to July 1. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been three new judicial vacancies since the May 2021 report. There are 77 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the United States Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 82 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.

Nominations: There were 11 new nominations since the May 2021 report.

Confirmations: There were seven confirmations since the May 2021 report.

New vacancies

There are 77 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.9%.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • Seven (3.9%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 68 (10.1%) of the 673 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.*
  • Two (22.2%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions are vacant.

*District court count does not include territorial courts.

Three judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. As Article III judicial positions, vacancies must be filled by a nomination from the president. Nominations are subject to confirmation on the advice and consent of the U.S. Senate.

  • Judge John Dowdell assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Oklahoma.
  • Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby left her seat on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims when she was elevated to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland.
  • Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson left her seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia when she was elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

U.S. Court of Appeals vacancies

The following chart tracks the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals from the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) to the date indicated on the chart.

The following maps show the number of vacancies on the United States Court of Appeals at the inauguration of President Joe Biden (D) and as of July 1, 2021.

New nominations

President Joe Biden (D) has announced 11 new nominations since the May 2021 report.

  • Toby Heytens, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
  • Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit
  • Jennifer Sung, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit
  • Jane Beckering, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan
  • Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia
  • Shalina Kumar, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan
  • Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  • Michael Nachmanoff, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut
  • Patricia Tolliver Giles, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia
  • Omar A. Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

New confirmations

As of July 1, 2021, the Senate has confirmed seven of President Biden’s judicial nominees—two appeals court judges and five district court judges—since January 2021.

  • Ketanji Brown Jackson, to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
  • Candace Jackson-Akiwumi, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit
  • Deborah Boardman, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  • Lydia Kay Griggsby, to the United States District Court for the District of Maryland
  • Julien Xavier Neals, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  • Zahid Quraishi, to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
  • Regina Rodriguez, to the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

Additional reading:

Current Federal Judicial Vacancies

Federal Judges Nominated by Joe Biden

Federal Judicial Appointments by President

Judicial Vacancies during the Biden administration

United States Federal Courts



President Biden announces fifth slate of federal judicial nominees

President Joe Biden (D) announced his intent to nominate his fifth slate of judicial nominees on June 30, which included six individuals to Article III judgeships with lifetime terms:

• Toby Heytens, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit

• Jennifer Sung, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit

• Jane Beckering, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Michigan

• Patricia Tolliver Giles, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

• Shalina Kumar, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan

• Michael Nachmanoff, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia

To date, Biden has nominated 30 individuals to federal judgeships. Seven of the nominees have been confirmed. There were 82 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary as of July 1.

As of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden inherited 46 Article III vacancies: two vacancies in the U.S. courts of appeal, 43 vacancies in the U.S. district courts, and one vacancy on the U.S. Court of International Trade. Biden announced his first federal judicial nominees on March 30.

Biden’s announcement on June 30 also included two nominees to Article I courts:

• Armando Bonilla, to the United States Court of Federal Claims

• Carolyn Lerner, to the United States Court of Federal Claims

Article I courts are federal courts organized under Article I of the United States Constitution. They are created by Congress and have differing levels of independence from the executive and legislative branches. Examples of Article I courts include the U.S. Tax Court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the Court of Military Commission Review, the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, and the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts.

Biden also announced his intent to nominate one individual to the local D.C. superior court:

• Sean Staples, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has two local courts: the superior court—a trial court of general jurisdiction—and a court of appeals. Justices on these courts are nominated by the U.S. president after recommendation from the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission; they then face confirmation by the U.S. Senate. D.C. judges are appointed to 15-year renewable terms.

Additional reading:

Judicial selection in Washington, D.C.

Judicial vacancies in federal courts

Judicial vacancies during the Biden administration



Supreme Court issues opinions in three cases on June 29

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued opinions in three cases on June 29. To date, the court has issued 64 opinions for its 2020-2021 term. Two cases were decided in one consolidated opinion and nine cases were decided without argument. Two cases argued during the term have yet to be decided.

Johnson v. Guzman Chavez (formerly Albence v. Guzman Chavez) concerned the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 and the statutory authority under which the government detains immigrants seeking to overturn deportation after a reinstated removal order. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit. 

In a 6-3 opinion, the court reversed the decision of the 4th Circuit, holding that 8 U.S.C. § 1231 governs the detention of aliens subject to reinstated orders of removal. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Stephen Breyer filed a dissent joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Minerva Surgical Inc. v. Hologic Inc. concerned patent infringement claims and the doctrine of assignor estoppel. The case came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

In a 5-4 opinion, the court vacated the Federal Circuit’s judgement and remanded the case for further proceedings. It held that the Federal Circuit was right to uphold assignor estoppel, but assignor estoppel applies only when the assignor’s claim of invalidity contradicts explicit or implicit representations they made in assigning the patent. Justice Kagan wrote the majority opinion of the court. Justices Alito and Amy Coney Barrett filed dissenting opinions. Barrett’s dissent was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch.

PennEast Pipeline Co. v. New Jersey concerned jurisdictional requirements of eminent domain under the Natural Gas Act. The case originated from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit.

In a 5-4 opinion, the court reversed the 3rd Circuit’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that Section 717f(h) authorizes FERC certificate holders to condemn all necessary rights-of-way, whether owned by private parties or by states. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Gorsuch filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Barrett filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Thomas, Kagan, and Gorsuch

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SCOTUS issues rulings in four cases

The U.S. Supreme Court issued rulings in four cases on June 23. With the addition of these cases, the court has issued 56 opinions for its 2020-2021 term. Two cases were decided in one consolidated opinion, and seven cases were decided without argument. Eight cases argued during the term have yet to be decided.

Mahanoy Area School District v. B.L. was a case argued before the court on April 28. It concerned Title 42 of the United States Code and whether Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District (1969) applies to students’ off-campus speech. In an 8-1 opinion, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit’s ruling, holding that while public schools may have a special interest in regulating some off-campus student speech, the special interests offered by the Mahanoy Area School District were not sufficient to overcome B.L.’s interest in free expression in the case. Justice Stephen Breyer delivered the opinion of the court and Justice Clarence Thomas filed a dissent.

Cedar Point Nursery v. Hassid was argued before the court on March 22. The case concerned the regulation of labor union organizers’ access to employees at worksites. In a 6-3 opinion, the court reversed the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that California’s access regulation constitutes a per se physical taking. Chief Justice John Roberts delivered the court’s majority opinion. Justice Breyer filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Lange v. California was a case argued before the court on February 24. It concerned the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. In a unanimous ruling, the court vacated the California First District Court of Appeal’s ruling and remanded the case for further proceedings, holding that under the Fourth Amendment, the pursuit of a fleeing misdemeanor suspect does not always or categorically justify a warrantless entry into a home. Justice Kagan authored the court’s majority opinion.

Collins v. Yellen was a case argued before the court on December 9, 2020. It concerned the extent of the president’s removal powers and control of independent federal agencies. In a 7-2 decision, the court held that restrictions on the president’s authority to remove the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency violated the separation of powers. The court also rejected the argument that the FHFA exceeded its authority as conservator of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored corporations that deal in mortgages. Justice Samuel Alito delivered the opinion of the court. Justice Sotomayor wrote an opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part, joined by Justice Breyer.

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President Biden nominates six to Article III courts; two to D.C. local courts

President Joe Biden (D) nominated six individuals to Article III judgeships with lifetime terms on June 15:

• Myrna Pérez, to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit

• Jia Cobb, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Sarah A.L. Merriam, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Sarala Nagala, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

• Florence Pan, to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia

• Omar A. Williams, to the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut

To date, Biden has nominated 24 individuals to federal judgeships. Five of the nominees have been confirmed. There were 81 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary as of June 1.

As of his inauguration in January 2021, Biden inherited 46 Article III vacancies: two vacancies in the U.S. courts of appeal, 43 vacancies in the U.S. district courts, and one vacancy on the U.S. Court of International Trade. Biden announced his first federal judicial nominees on March 30.

President Biden also nominated two individuals to Washington, D.C., local courts on June 15:

• Tovah Calderon, to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals

• Kenia Seoane Lopez, to the Superior Court of the District of Columbia

Washington, D.C., has two local courts: the superior court—a trial court of general jurisdiction—and a court of appeals. Justices on these courts are nominated by the U.S. president after recommendation from the District of Columbia Judicial Nomination Commission. They then face confirmation by the U.S. Senate. D.C. judges are appointed to 15-year renewable terms.

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Texas Supreme Court justice resigns, creates midterm vacancy

Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman retired from her seat on the state’s highest court effective Friday, June 11. Her resignation letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) did not provide a reason for her departure. Guzman’s replacement will be Gov. Abbott’s fifth nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Under Texas law, in the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement. The Texas State Senate must then confirm the nominee. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which he or she must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term.

Guzman joined the Texas Supreme Court in 2009. She was appointed by former Gov. Rick Perry (R).

Guzman was the first Hispanic woman appointed to the state’s highest court. Upon winning election to the seat in 2010, she became the first Hispanic woman elected to statewide office in Texas. Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Guzman served as a district judge for Texas’ 309th District Court and as an appellate judge for Texas’ Fourteenth Court of Appeals. She practiced law as a litigator in Houston before becoming a judge. Guzman earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Houston, a J.D. from the South Texas College of Law, and an LL.M. from Duke University School of Law.

Following Guzman’s retirement, the Texas Supreme Court includes the following members:

• Nathan Hecht, appointed by Perry in 2013

• Jimmy Blacklock, appointed by Abbott in 2018

• Debra Lehrmann, appointed by Perry in 2010

• John Devine, elected in 2012

• Rebeca Huddle, appointed by Abbott in 2020

• Jane Bland, appointed by Abbott in 2019

• Jeffrey S. Boyd, appointed by Perry in 2012

• Brett Busby, appointed by Abbott in 2019

All current members of the court identify as Republicans.

In 2021, there have been 13 supreme court vacancies in 11 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements.

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