Author

Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia and can be reached at kate.carsella@ballotpedia.org.

Illinois Supreme Court Justice to retire on Leap Day

Illinois Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Thomas is retiring on February 29, 2020. Thomas announced plans to join law firm Powers Rogers following his retirement.

Justice Thomas joined the Second District of the Illinois Supreme Court after winning election in November 2000. Thomas served as the Chief Justice of the court from 2005 to 2008. He previously served as a judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois from 1988 to 1994, and as a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court from 1994 to 2000.

Thomas earned a B.A. in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. In 1981, he earned a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law. Prior to beginning his legal career, Thomas was a kicker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League.

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge in the event of a midterm vacancy. The interim judge serves until the next primary election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to remain on the court. Illinois Supreme Court Justices are selected by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in nonpartisan retention elections to remain on the court.

Because the vacancy from Thomas’ retirement is set to occur less than 60 days before the state’s next primary on March 3, his replacement was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court in a vote of the justices. The court appointed appellate Justice Michael J. Burke to serve from March 1, 2020, to December 5, 2022.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts across the state) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions. Three other states—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—use a similar system.

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:
• Mary Jane Theis — Elected in 2010
• Anne M. Burke — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006; elected Chief Justice by her peers in 2019
• P. Scott Neville — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018
• Thomas Kilbride — Elected in 2000
• Rita Garman — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001
• Lloyd Karmeier — Elected in 2004

The Illinois Supreme Court will see another retirement in 2020. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is retiring from the court on December 6, 2020. His seat will be filled via partisan election.

In 2020, there have been eight supreme court vacancies in seven of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. One vacancy is in a state where the state supreme court votes to appoint the replacement.

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Supreme Court justice vacancy.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Illinois Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Illinois



President Trump announces intent to nominate two Article III judgeships in New York

On February 12, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) announced his intent to nominate Jennifer Rearden to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and Saritha Komatireddy to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

Following nomination by the president, a federal judicial nominee completes a questionnaire that is reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee then holds a hearing to question the nominee regarding their judicial philosophy and their previous rulings. The committee also sends the nominee’s home state senators a blue slip, permitting them to express their approval or disapproval of the nominee.

After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the nominee is reported to the full Senate for a vote. If returned, the president may renominate the person. If the Senate confirms the nomination, the individual receives commission to serve as a federal judge for a life term. If the individual is not confirmed, they do not become a judge.

The U.S. District Courts for the Eastern and Southern Districts of New York are two of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system.

The president has announced 245 Article III judicial nominations since taking office on January 20, 2017. The president named 69 judicial nominees in 2017 and 92 in 2018.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:

 



Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for January

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies from January 3, 2020, to February 3, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Vacancies: There have been three new judicial vacancies since the December 2019 report. There are 75 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, 81 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
  • Nominations: There has been one new nomination since the December 2019 report.
  • Confirmations: There have not been any new confirmations since the December 2019 report.
New vacancies 

There were 75 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.6, which is .3 percentage points higher than the vacancy percentage in December 2019.

  • The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
  • One (0.6%) of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
  • 72 (10.6%) of the 677 U.S. District Court positions are vacant.
  • Two (22.2%) of the nine U.S. Court of International Trade positions are vacant.

A vacancy occurs when a judge resigns, retires, takes senior status, or passes away. Article III judges, who serve on courts authorized by Article III of the Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

Three judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies. As Article III judicial positions, these 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 Christopher Boyko assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.
  • Judge Dora Irizarry assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
  • Judge Lawrence O’Neill assumed senior status on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California.
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 Donald Trump (R) 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 Donald Trump (R) and as of February 3, 2020.

New nominations

President Donald Trump (R) has announced one new nomination since the December 2019 report.

  • Drew Tipton, to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Since taking office in January 2017, President Trump has nominated 239 individuals to Article III positions.

New confirmations

Since January 3, 2020, the United States Senate did not confirm any of President Trump’s nominees to Article III seats. As of February 3, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 187 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—133 district court judges, 50 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:


Indiana statewide filing deadline is February 7

Photo credit: Diego Delso

The filing deadline to run for elected office in Indiana is on February 7, 2020. In Indiana, prospective candidates may file for the following offices:

• All nine U.S. House seats
• Governor
• Lieutenant Governor
• Attorney General
• State Senate (25 seats)
• House of Representatives (100 seats)
• Supreme Court (one seat up for retention election)
• Court of Appeals (six seats up for retention election)

The primary is scheduled for May 5, and the general election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. The judicial retention elections are also on November 3.

Indiana’s statewide filing deadline is the 12th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on February 18 in Pennsylvania.

Indiana has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Click here to read more about Indiana’s 2020 elections

Additional reading:


U.S. Supreme Court accepts three new cases for October 2019-2020 term

On January 17, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear three new cases during its October 2019-2020 term: Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court (consolidated with Ford Motor Company v. Bandemer), Chiafalo v. Washington (consolidated with Colorado Department of State v. Baca), and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (consolidated with Trump v. Pennsylvania). As of January 21, the court had agreed to hear 73 cases this term.

In the consolidated case of Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania / Trump v. Pennsylvania, the Trump administration issued regulations allowing for exceptions to the federal mandate to include contraceptive coverage in health insurance plans, following several years of litigation including two U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding regulatory accommodations for religious and moral objections to mandatory contraceptive coverage in Obamacare.

The U.S Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a nationwide injunction that kept the rules from going into effect. It held that the states challenging the rules were likely to succeed in proving that the Trump administration violated the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), that Obamacare did not allow the regulations, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) did not require them.

The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the 3rd Circuit was wrong to deny the organization standing to appeal its decision against the contraceptive mandate exemption rules, that the 3rd Circuit’s decision creates a regulatory environment that violates the RFRA, and that the agencies did not violate the APA when they crafted exemptions to Obamacare’s contraception mandate.

The issues in the case are:
1. Whether a litigant who is directly protected by an administrative rule and has been allowed to intervene to defend it lacks standing to appeal a decision invalidating the rule if the litigant is also protected by an injunction from a different court.
2. Whether the federal government lawfully exempted religious objectors from the regulatory requirement to provide health plans that include contraceptive coverage.

In the consolidated case of Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court / Ford Motor Company v. Bandemer, Ford vehicles were driven in car accidents. In Ford Motor Company v. Bandemer, a passenger sustained a severe brain injury and filed a claim against Ford for vehicle defects while alleging that the passenger-side airbag failed to deploy. In Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court, a Ford vehicle’s tire experienced a tread/belt separation, the car lost stability and rolled into a ditch, and the driver died in the crash. A personal representative filed claims against Ford for liability and negligence.

Ford moved to dismiss both cases in their respective state district courts, citing a lack of personal jurisdiction. In both cases, Ford’s motions were denied. On appeal in both cases, the state courts of appeal affirmed the rulings of the district courts. Ford appealed the cases to the state supreme courts, which affirmed the rulings of the courts of appeal. On September 18, 2019, Ford petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court for review of both cases.

The issue in the case is: Whether the “arise out of or relate to” requirement of the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause permits a state court to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant under Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz when none of the defendant’s forum contacts caused the plaintiff’s claims, such that the plaintiff’s claims would be the same even if the defendant had no forum contacts.

In the consolidated case of Chiafalo v. Washington / Colorado Department of State v. Baca, state-appointed presidential electors voted contrary to their respective state’s laws requiring that they cast their electoral college ballots for the winner of the popular vote. The electors were then penalized by their respective states.

The electors appealed the penalties, challenging their constitutionality. In Colorado Department of State v. Baca, the federal circuit court affirmed in part and reversed in part the findings of the district court and remanded the case. In Chiafalo v. Washington, the state supreme court affirmed the ruling of the trial court.

In October 2019, the Colorado State Department and the appellants in Chiafalo v. Washington filed petitions for review with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issues in the case are:
1. Whether enforcement of state laws threatening penalization for presidential electors who cast electoral college ballots contrary to how the law directs is unconstitutional because a state has no power to legally enforce how a presidential elector casts his or her ballot,
2. Whether a state penalizing an elector for exercising his or her constitutional discretion to vote violates the First Amendment,
3. And whether Article II or the Twelfth Amendment forbids a state from requiring presidential electors to follow the state’s popular vote when casting electoral college ballots.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Chiafalo v. Washington
Ford Motor Company v. Montana Eighth Judicial District Court
Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania 



U.S. Supreme Court issues opinions in two cases

On January 14, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued rulings on two cases, Ritzen Group Inc. v. Jackson Masonry and Retirement Plan Committee of IBM v. Jander.

In the case Ritzen Group Inc. v. Jackson Masonry, Ritzen Group and Jackson Masonry both claimed that the other party breached contract after a sale of property fell through. A lawsuit Ritzen filed against Jackson in Tennessee state court was stayed after Jackson filed for bankruptcy. Ritzen filed a motion to lift the stay, which the bankruptcy court denied. Ritzen then filed a claim against Jackson in bankruptcy court. The bankruptcy court found Ritzen, not Jackson, breached the contract. On appeal, the district court affirmed the bankruptcy court’s ruling. On appeal again, the 6th Circuit affirmed the judgments of the district court and bankruptcy court.

The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, ruling unanimously that a bankruptcy court’s order unreservedly denying relief from the automatic stay constitutes a final, immediately appealable order under §158(a). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg delivered the opinion of the court.

In the case Retirement Plan Committee of IBM v. Jander, Larry Jander invested in IBM’s retirement plan. After IBM sold its microelectronics business at a loss and shares fell, Jander alleged the IBM retirement plan committee violated their fiduciary duty of prudence to the pensioner under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Jander’s claim. On appeal, the 2nd Circuit reversed and remanded the case. The retirement committee petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, arguing the 2nd Circuit “subverted [a] pleading standard” established in Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer.

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded the case in a per curiam decision. A per curiam decision is issued collectively by the court. The authorship is not indicated. Justices Elena Kagan and Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a joint concurring opinion. Justice Neil Gorsuch also filed a concurring opinion.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Ritzen Group Inc. v. Jackson Masonry
Retirement Plan Committee of IBM v. Jander
Supreme Court of the United States



Traynor receives commission to North Dakota federal court

On January 13, 2020, Daniel Mack Traynor received his judicial commission to the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota.

Traynor was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on September 19, 2019, to succeed Judge Daniel Hovland, who assumed senior status on November 10, 2019. Traynor was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on December 19, 2019, by a vote of 51-41.

Following nomination by the president, a federal judicial nominee completes a questionnaire that is reviewed by the Senate Judiciary Committee. The committee then holds a hearing to question the nominee regarding their judicial philosophy and their previous rulings. The committee also sends the nominee’s home state senators a blue slip, permitting them to express their approval or disapproval of the nominee.

After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the nominee is reported to the full Senate for a vote. If returned, the president may renominate the person. If the Senate confirms the nomination, the individual receives commission to serve as a federal judge for a life term. If the individual is not confirmed, they do not become a judge.

The U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota has two active Article III judges, including Traynor. The other active judge is Peter Welte, who was also nominated by Trump.

The court’s two judges on senior status are:
• Patrick Conmy – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)
• Daniel Hovland – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)

The United States District Court for the District of North Dakota is one of 94 U.S. District Courts. They are the general trial courts of the United States federal court system. When decisions of the court are appealed, they are appealed to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Federal judges nominated by Donald Trump
United States District Court for the District of North Dakota
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals 



SCOTUS hears oral arguments in five cases

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in five of the cases scheduled during its October 2019-2020 term. On January 13, the court heard arguments in two cases: Lucky Brand Dungarees v. Marcel Fashion Group and Thole v. U.S. Bank. On January 14, the court heard arguments in two cases: Kelly v. United States and Romag Fasteners v. Fossil. On January 15, the court heard arguments in one case: Babb v. Wilkie.

The issue in the case Lucky Brand Dungarees v. Marcel Fashion Group is: Whether, when a plaintiff asserts new claims, federal preclusion principles can bar a defendant from raising defenses that were not actually litigated and resolved in any prior case between the parties.

The issues in the case Thole v. U.S. Bank are:

1. May an ERISA plan participant or beneficiary seek injunctive relief against fiduciary misconduct without demonstrating individual financial loss or the imminent risk thereof?
2. May an ERISA plan participant or beneficiary seek restoration of plan losses caused by fiduciary breach without demonstrating individual financial loss or the imminent risk thereof?
3. Whether petitioners have demonstrated Article III standing.

The issue in the case Kelly v. United States is: Does a public official defraud the government of its property by advancing a public policy-based reason for an official decision that is not their subjective reason for making the decision?

The issue in the case Romag Fasteners v. Fossil is: Whether, under section 35 of the Lanham Act, willful infringement is a prerequisite for an award of an infringer’s profits for a violation of section 43(a), id. § 1125(a).

The issue in the case Babb v. Wilkie is: Whether the federal-sector provision of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which provides that personnel actions affecting agency employees aged 40 years or older shall be made free from any “discrimination based on age,” 29 U.S.C. §633a(a), requires a plaintiff to prove that age was a but-for cause of the challenged personnel action.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Lucky Brand Dungarees v. Marcel Fashion Group
Thole v. U.S. Bank
Kelly v. United States
Romag Fasteners v. Fossil
Babb v. Wilkie



U.S. Supreme Court accepts three new cases for October 2019-2020 term

On January 10, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear three new cases during its October 2019-2020 term: Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board, and Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc. As of January 15, the court had agreed to hear 70 cases this term.

In the case of Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, the Arkansas General Assembly passed a state law in 2015 that included mandates for pharmacy reimbursement for drug costs and new requirements for pharmacy benefits managers’ updates to maximum allowable cost lists. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association brought action to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas on behalf of its pharmacy benefits manager members. The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association alleged that the law was preempted by existing federal law and was unconstitutional. The court held that the law was preempted in part and not preempted in part by federal law, and that it was not unconstitutional.

The Pharmaceutical Care Management Association appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit. In June 2018, the 8th Circuit affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s decision and remanded the case. In October 2018, Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, acting in her official capacity, filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue in the case is: Whether the 8th Circuit erred in holding that Arkansas’ statute regulating pharmacy benefit managers’ drug-reimbursement rates, similar to laws enacted by a substantial majority of states, is preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), in contravention of the Supreme Court’s precedent that ERISA does not preempt rate regulation.

In the case of Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board, Manfredo Salinas filed an application for a disability annuity with the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board’s Disability Benefits Division in 2006. The application was denied. Salinas appealed to the Board to reconsider. The Board denied the request.

In 2013, Salinas filed a new application for a disability annuity. The Board granted the annuity. Salinas appealed the annuity’s start date and amount, and requested that his prior applications be reviewed. The Board denied the request.

On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, Salinas filed a petition for review of the Board’s decision. The 5th Circuit dismissed the petition, holding that the court lacked jurisdiction to review the Board’s decision. In August 2019, Salinas filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue in the case is: Whether, under Section 5(f) of the Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act and Section 8 of the Railroad Retirement Act, the Railroad Retirement Board’s denial of a request to reopen a prior benefits determination is a “final decision” subject to judicial review.

In the case of Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc., the American Association of Political Consultants and three other plaintiffs initiated litigation in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina against the federal government in 2016. The plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991’s automated-call restriction’s debt-collection exemption, citing the free speech clause of the First Amendment. In 2017, both the plaintiffs and the federal government moved for summary judgment. The Eastern District of North Carolina awarded summary judgment to the federal government, denied the motion by the plaintiffs, and rejected the plaintiffs’ free speech clause challenge.

On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit vacated the district court’s award of summary judgment to the federal government, directed the severance of the debt-collection exemption from the automated call ban, and remanded the case. In November 2019, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, acting in his official capacity, along with the Federal Communications Commission filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The issue in the case is: Whether the debt-collection exemption to the automated call ban violates the First Amendment, and whether the proper remedy for any constitutional violation is to sever the exemption from the remainder of the statute.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Rutledge v. Pharmaceutical Care Management Association
Salinas v. United States Railroad Retirement Board
Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants Inc.
Supreme Court of the United States



Alaska Supreme Court justice announces retirement

On January 7, 2020, Alaska Supreme Court Justice Craig Stowers announced his retirement effective June 1, 2020. Justice Stowers was appointed to the Alaska Supreme Court in 2009 by Governor Sean Parnell (R), and he was retained by voters on November 4, 2014. He served as chief justice of the court from June 2015 to July 2018. Stowers’ replacement will be Governor Mike Dunleavy’s (R) first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Selection of state supreme court justices in Alaska occurs through assisted appointment. The Alaska Judicial Council forwards a list of its nominees to the governor, who must then choose a name from the list within 45 days to fill any vacancy. Justices serve 10-year terms on the court, but newly appointed justices are subject to a retention election at the state’s first general election that is more than three years after their appointment. After that, each justice is subject to a retention election every 10 years.

Founded in 1959, the Alaska Supreme Court is the court of last resort in Alaska. The chief justice of the court is Joel Bolger. Five justices serve on the court. As of January 2020, four of the court’s justices were appointed by Republican governors, and one was appointed by an independent governor.

In 2020, there have been four supreme court vacancies in four of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. In 2019, there were 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states. Retirements caused 14 of the vacancies.

Click here to learn more.

Additional reading:
Craig Stowers
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Alaska Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Alaska



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