Author

Kate Carsella

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

Georgia Supreme Court justice announces appointment, impacts May 2020 election

On December 5, 2019, Georgia Supreme Court Justice Robert Benham announced his plans to retire on March 1, 2020.
Benham became an associate justice of the nine-member Georgia Supreme Court in 1989. He was appointed to the court in December of that year by Governor Joe Frank Harris (D). Benham served as chief justice of the court from 1995 until 2001. Benham previously served on the Georgia Court of Appeals from 1984 to 1989; Gov. Harris appointed Benham to that court in April 1984.
Benham earned his undergraduate degree in political science from Tuskegee University in 1967. He earned his J.D. from the University of Georgia’s Lumpkin School of Law in 1970. In 1989, he earned his LL.M. from the University of Virginia. He also attended Harvard University. Benham joined the U. S. Army Reserve after law school. He left the service as a Captain.
Selection of state supreme court justices in Georgia occurs through nonpartisan election of judges; however, the governor appoints judges with the help of a nomination commission in the event of a midterm vacancy. Benham’s replacement will be Governor Brian Kemp’s (R) first nominee to the nine-member supreme court. Judges serve six-year terms.
The Georgia Supreme Court is the court of last resort in the state. It currently includes the following justices:
• Justice Keith Blackwell – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Robert Benham – appointed by Gov. Joe Frank Harris (D)
• Michael P. Boggs – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• David Nahmias – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R)
• Harold Melton – appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R)
• Nels Peterson – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Sarah Warren – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• Charlie Bethel – appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal (R)
• John Ellington – Elected
In 2020, there will be two state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. One vacancy occurred in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement with the help of a nomination commission, and the other occurred in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement with the help of a nomination commission.
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California statewide filing deadline is December 6

The ballot access deadline for candidates in California is December 6, 2019. The primary is scheduled for March 3, 2020, and the general election is November 3, 2020. Offices on the ballot include all 53 U.S. House seats, 20 out of 40 state Senate seats, and all 80 state House seats. California’s statewide filing deadline will be extended by five days in races where no incumbents file for re-election.
 
A special election for California’s 25th congressional district seat will also be held in 2020. The primary is scheduled for March 3, 2020, and the general election is scheduled for May 12, 2020; however, the filing deadline for that special election is January 9, 2020.
 
California’s statewide filing deadline is the fourth such deadline for the 2020 election cycle. The first statewide filing deadline was Alabama’s on November 8, followed by Arkansas’ on November 12 and Illinois’ on December 2. The fifth statewide filing deadline is in Texas on December 9.
 
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Nardini receives commission for federal court of appeals

On November 14, 2019, Judge William Nardini received commission for the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit.
 
Nardini was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on September 19, 2019, to succeed Judge Christopher Droney, who assumed senior status on June 30, 2019. Nardini was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 7, 2019, by a vote of 86-2.
 
Following nomination by the president, a federal judge 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 show their approval or disapproval of the nominee.
 
After the hearing, the committee votes to approve or return the nominee. If approved, the full Senate votes on the nominee. 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 United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit has 13 active Article III judges, including Nardini. The remaining 12 current active judges are:
 
  • Chief judge Robert Katzmann – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Jose Cabranes – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Rosemary Pooler – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Raymond Lohier – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Debra Livingston – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
  • Peter Hall – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
  • Susan L. Carney – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Denny Chin – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Richard Sullivan – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
  • Joseph Bianco – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
  • Michael H. Park – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
  • Steven Menashi – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
 
The court’s 14 judges on senior status are:
  • Dennis Jacobs – nominated by President George H.W. Bush (R)
  • Jon Newman – nominated by President Jimmy Carter (D)
  • Ralph Winter – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)
  • Amalya Kearse – nominated by President Jimmy Carter (D)
  • Pierre Leval – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • John Walker – nominated by President George H.W. Bush (R)
  • Chester Straub – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Guido Calabresi – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Robert Sack – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
  • Barrington Parker – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
  • Christopher Droney – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Richard Wesley – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
  • Gerard Lynch – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Reena Raggi – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
 
The United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is one of 13 U.S. courts of appeal. They are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system. Appeals are heard in the Thurgood Marshall Federal Courthouse in New York City.
 


U.S. Senate confirms Menashi for the U.S. Court of Appeals

The U.S. Senate confirmed nominee Steven Menashi to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Overall, the Senate has confirmed 162 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 46 appellate court judges, 112 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017. At the end of the 115th Congress in January 2019, the Senate had confirmed 85 of the president’s judicial nominees.
 
The Senate confirmed Menashi on a vote of 51-41, with only Republican senators voting to confirm. Thirty-nine Democratic senators, Republican Sen. Susan Collins, and independent Sen. Angus King of Maine voted against Menashi’s nomination. Eight senators did not vote.
 
The American Bar Association (ABA) rated Menashi well qualified by a majority and qualified by a minority for the position. The ABA’s Committee on the Federal Judiciary conducts a background check of potential federal judicial nominees and provides a not qualified, qualified, or well qualified rating. Traditionally, the president has consulted with the ABA on judicial nominee prospects.
 
The United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is one of 13 U.S. courts of appeal. They are the intermediate appellate courts of the United States federal court system. After Menashi receives his judicial commission and takes his oath, the court will have no vacancies, seven Republican-appointed judges, and six Democrat-appointed judges.
 


New SCOTUS case scheduled for argument in October 2019-2020 term

The case of Nasrallah v. Barr has been scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) during the court’s October 2019-2020 term. The case came to the court on a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
 
A Lebanese citizen, Nidal Khalid Nasrallah, pleaded guilty to two counts of receiving stolen property via interstate commerce. A U.S. immigration judge determined that one of the convictions involved moral turpitude and was a crime that made Nasrallah subject to deportation from the United States. However, the judge granted Nasrallah a deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture. On appeal, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the immigration judge’s conclusion that Nasrallah’s conviction was a crime that involved moral turpitude, but reversed the immigration judge’s deferral and ordered Nasrallah’s removal.
 
Nasrallah filed a petition for review with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. On February 14, 2019, the 11th Circuit denied in part and dismissed in part Nasrallah’s petition for review. On May 14, 2019, Nasrallah filed a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 18, 2019, the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.
 
The question presented before the Supreme Court is, “Whether, notwithstanding Section 1252(a)(2)(C), the courts of appeals possess jurisdiction to review factual findings underlying denials of withholding (and deferral) of removal relief.”
 
The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest judicial body in the country and leads the judicial branch of the federal government. The Supreme Court is the only court established by the United States Constitution (in Article III); all other federal courts are created by Congress.
 
The Supreme Court meets in Washington, D.C., and its yearly term begins on the first Monday in October and lasts until the first Monday in October the following year. The court generally releases the majority of its decisions in mid-June.
 


New federal court vacancy after judge assumes senior status

On October 15, U.S. District Court Judge Joan Ericksen assumed senior status in the District of Minnesota, which created a vacancy on that court. Ericksen had first joined the court in 2002 after being nominated by President George W. Bush (R).
 
As of October 18, there were 98 Article III vacancies in the federal judiciary out of 870 total Article III judgeships, and there were 37 presidential nominees awaiting a hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee. Another 15 nominees were awaiting a committee vote, and 23 other nominees were awaiting a confirmation vote in the full U.S. Senate.
 
The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota now has six active Article III judges:
 
  • John Tunheim – nominated by President William J. Clinton (D)
  • Patrick Schiltz – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
  • Susan Richard Nelson – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Wilhelmina M. Wright – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
  • Nancy E. Brasel – nominated by President Donald J. Trump (R)
  • Eric Tostrud – nominated by President Donald J. Trump (R)
 
The court has eight judges on senior status, including Ericksen. The other seven judges on senior status are:
 
  • Michael James Davis – nominated by President William J. Clinton (D)
  • Richard Kyle – nominated by President George H.W. Bush (R)
  • David Doty – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)
  • Paul Magnuson – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)
  • Donovan Frank – nominated by President William J. Clinton (D)
  • Ann Montgomery – nominated by President William J. Clinton (D)
  • Donald Alsop – nominated by President Richard Nixon (R)
 
The United States District Court for the District of Minnesota is one of 94 United States district courts, which are the general trial courts of the nation’s federal court system and where both civil and criminal cases are filed. The District of Minnesota’s main courthouse is based in Minneapolis.
 


California school board recall election does not go to vote

A recall effort seeking to remove three of the Antelope Valley Union High School District board of trustees’ five members did not go to a vote in 2019. In order for the recall to be included on the ballot, supporters were required to submit petitions with the signatures of 25,000 registered voters from the three trustee areas to the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk by October 1, 2019. In total, 12,000 recall petition signatures were collected across the three trustee areas.
 
The recall effort targeting board President Robert Davis, Vice President Victoria Ruffin, and Clerk Amanda Parrell was initiated in April 2019. The filed notice of intent cited concerns regarding personnel, spending, and relationships with community members. In response to the effort, Davis said he believed the board was on track with its new vision and that change can be hard to accept. Ruffin said that she believed district residents were troubled by the board’s efforts to shed light on issues.
 
The notice of intent to circulate recall petitions was filed with the county on April 15, 2019, and the county approved the petitions for circulation on June 3, 2019. To trigger the recall election, Davis’ petition required 7,964 signatures by registered voters in his trustee area, Parrell’s required 6,833 signatures, and Ruffin’s required 7,388 signatures.
 
Ballotpedia has tracked 17 school board recall efforts targeting 41 board members in 2019. One recall effort against two board members was on the ballot on February 19, 2019. A second recall election against three board members was held on August 27, 2019. A third recall election against one member will be held on November 5, 2019, and a fourth recall election against one member will be held on December 10, 2019.
 
In 2018, Ballotpedia covered a total of 206 recall efforts against 299 elected officials. Of the 123 officials whose recalls made it to the ballot, 77 were recalled for a rate of 62.6 percent. That was higher than the 56.9 percent rate and 56.3 percent rate for 2017 and 2016 recalls, respectively.
 
 


Special district spotlight: Miami-Dade County, Florida

The South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District is a special district in Miami-Dade County, Florida. Special districts are a form of municipal government created to fulfill a specific, stated purpose within a certain geographic area and are empowered to tax residents in order to fund operational expenditures. Common examples of special districts include airport, conservation, fire control, flood control, hospital, library, sanitation, transportation, and utility districts.
 
The South Dade Soil and Water Conservation District was established by the Florida Legislature with a mission to administer programs for soil conservation and for water quality and quantity improvement. The District is responsible for overseeing water and environmental conservation projects in Miami-Dade County.
 
The board has five members who supervise the district’s work and revenue sources. Each board member represents a geographical district within the county, distinguished by five “Group” seats. The office is nonpartisan and members are elected to a four-year term. As of October 2019, current officeholder details are as follows:
 
• Lovey Clayton is the Group 1 member. Clayton assumed office in 2019 for a term ending on January 3, 2023.
• Thomas Davenport is the Group 2 member. Davenport assumed office in 2017 for a term ending on January 5, 2021.
• Jeremy Weinstock is the Group 3 member. Weinstock assumed office in 2019 for a term ending January 3, 2023.
• S. Cooper McMillan is the Group 4 member. McMillan assumed office in 2017 for a term ending January 5, 2021.
• The Group 5 seat is currently vacant.
 
The board’s Group 2, 4, and 5 seats are scheduled for election on November 3, 2020. The election for Group 5 will cover an unexpired term ending in 2023. The candidate filing period for the election begins on June 8, 2020, and ends at noon on June 12, 2020.
 


At-large results certified in Nashville council runoff

Four out of five at-large seats on the Nashville Metro Council were on the ballot in a nonpartisan runoff election held on September 12. Eight of the 15 general election candidates had advanced to the runoff; after the vote totals were certified, the four seats were ultimately won by three incumbents and one challenger.
 
Incumbents Burkley Allen, Sharon Hurt, and Steve Glover were re-elected to new four-year terms. Hurt received 15.3%, Allen received 13.2%, and Glover received 13.1% of the vote. Challenger Zulfat Suara was also elected to the council with 13.0% of the vote. The four runoff candidates who lost were incumbent Fabian Bedne (11.3%) and challengers Sheri Weiner (12.6%), Howard Jones (11.5%), and Gary Moore (9.6%). The fifth at-large seat was previously won in the August general election by incumbent Bob Mendes.
 
Races for city council seats in Districts 2, 7, 13, 16, 21, 23, 26, and 30 also advanced to a runoff on September 12. The Nashville Metro Council has 35 district seats and five at-large seats. It also includes Vice Mayor Jim Shulman, who won re-election in the August general election with 80.5% of the vote.
 
Nashville is the largest city in Tennessee and the 25th-largest city in the U.S. by population.
 


One school board seat up for election in West Ada, Idaho, after other two races canceled

In Idaho, the West Ada School District was originally scheduled to hold a general election for three of its five school board seats on November 5, 2019. However, elections for two of the seats were canceled after only the incumbents filed to run.
 
Consequently, Zone 4 incumbent Phillip Neuhoff and Zone 5 incumbent Rene Ozuna won new terms by default. The Zone 2 race, which features incumbent Mike Vuittonet and challenger Amy Johnson, is still on the November 5 ballot. The candidate filing deadline passed on September 6 for this election.
 
Members of the West Ada school board are elected by district to four-year terms. Staggered elections are held every odd-numbered year with two seats on the ballot in 2013 and 2017 and the other three seats on the ballot in 2015 and 2019. In 2016, a recall election was held targeting the board members from Zones 1, 3, and 5; all three were successfully recalled.
 
The West Ada School District, which is also referred to as Joint School District No. 2 and was previously known as the Meridian School District, served 36,804 students during the 2014-2015 school year. This made it the largest district by student enrollment in the state of Idaho.
 


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