Author

Kate Carsella

Kate Carsella is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

U.S. Supreme Court announces oral arguments to be conducted via teleconference for upcoming October sitting

On September 16, 2020, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would hear oral arguments via teleconference during its October sitting, following the same format that was used during its May sitting in the 2019-2020 term.

Under this format, all relevant counsel are called the morning of the case’s argument day and are briefed with instructions. At the time of argument, the justices enter the main conference call. Chief Justice Roberts will call the first case and will prompt counsel to present their arguments. The chief justice will conduct initial questioning. Once complete, the associate justices are able to ask questions in turns in order of seniority.

The following is a list of the current Supreme Court justices in order of seniority:
Chief Justice John Roberts – Appointed by President George W. Bush (R) in 2005
Associate Justice Clarence Thomas – Appointed by President George H.W. Bush (R) in 1991
Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg – Appointed by President Bill Clinton (D) in 1993
Associate Justice Stephen Breyer – Appointed by President Bill Clinton (D) in 1994
Associate Justice Samuel Alito – Appointed by President George W. Bush (R) in 2006
Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor – Appointed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2009
Associate Justice Elena Kagan – Appointed by President Barack Obama (D) in 2010
Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch – Appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2017
Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh – Appointed by President Donald Trump (R) in 2018

The court also announced that the oral arguments will be provided to the public via live audio stream. The audio files and argument transcripts for cases will be posted on the Court’s website following oral argument each day.

The Supreme Court will begin hearing cases for the term on October 5, 2020. The court’s 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.



Death of Massachusetts chief justice creates second vacancy on state supreme court

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants died while in office on September 14, 2020, causing a second vacancy in the state’s court of last resort. The other vacancy will occur on December 1, 2020, when Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk is scheduled to retire from the court, one day prior to reaching the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

Chief Justice Gants was appointed to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by Governor Deval Patrick (D) in 2008 to replace retired Justice John Greaney. Gants assumed office on January 29, 2009. On April 17, 2014, Justice Gants was nominated by Gov. Patrick to serve as the chief justice of the court, effective following Chief Justice Roderick Ireland’s retirement on July 25, 2014. Gants’ term was scheduled to expire in 2024.

Chief Justice Gants earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College in 1976. He earned a diploma in criminology at Cambridge University in England. He earned a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1980. Gants served as a note editor with the Harvard Law Review.

The seven justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and approved by the governor’s council. The Governor’s Council, also referred to as the Executive Council, is a governmental body that is constitutionally authorized to approve judicial appointments. The council consists of eight members who are elected every two years from each of the eight council districts. Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court justices hold tenured appointments until they reach 70 years old, the age of mandatory retirement.

Founded in 1692, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. The court is the oldest continuously functioning appellate court in the Western Hemisphere. Originally called the Superior Court of Judicature, it was established in 1692. The court was renamed the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court by the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780.

Following Gants’ death, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court included the following members:
• Barbara Lenk – Appointed by Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in 2011
• Frank M. Gaziano – Appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker (R) in 2016
• David A. Lowy – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Kimberly S. Budd – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2016
• Elspeth Cypher – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

• Scott Kafker – Appointed by Gov. Baker (R) in 2017

In 2020, there have been 21 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 20 vacancies were caused by retirements. Twelve vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Eight 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.

Additional reading


President Trump announces federal judicial nominee to Article I court

On September 2, 2020, President Donald Trump (R) announced his intent to nominate Stephen A. Kubiatowski to a seat on the United States Court of Federal Claims.

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.

There are currently six vacancies on the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, out of the court’s 16 judicial positions.

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims has 10 active Article I judges:
Chief Judge Margaret M. Sweeney – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Ryan Holte – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
Patricia Campbell-Smith – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
Lydia Kay Griggsby – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
Elaine Kaplan – nominated by President Barack Obama (D)
Thomas C. Wheeler – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Richard Hertling – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
David A. Tapp – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)
Matthew Solomson – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)

Eleni Roumel – nominated by President Donald Trump (R)

The court’s 11 judges on senior status are:
Edward J. Damich – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
Nancy B. Firestone – nominated by President Bill Clinton (D)
Marian Blank Horn – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Charles F. Lettow – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Susan G. Braden – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Mary Ellen Coster Williams – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Victor J. Wolski – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Robert H. Hodges Jr. – nominated by President George W. Bush (R)
Loren A. Smith – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)
John Paul Wiese – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)

Eric G. Bruggink  – nominated by President Ronald Reagan (R)

The U.S. Court of Federal Claims is an Article I tribunal, a federal court organized under Article One of the United States Constitution. The court hears claims against the U.S. government. Judgments of the court may be appealed to the Federal Circuit.

The court has jurisdiction over claims across the United States for over $10,000 and congruent jurisdiction with the United States District Courts on claims under $10,000.

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Candidates advance from Democratic and Republican conventions in Michigan

In Michigan, the Democratic Party and Republican Party both held their nominating conventions for state supreme court and state executive offices on August 29, 2020. Candidates were nominated to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Candidates were selected for nomination to the following offices:
• Michigan Supreme Court (2 seats)
• Michigan State Board of Education (2 seats)
• University of Michigan Board of Regents (2 seats)
• Michigan State University Board of Trustees (2 seats)

• Wayne State University Board of Governors (2 seats)

In the state supreme court election, one incumbent—Bridget Mary McCormack—filed for re-election and advanced to the general election as one of two candidates nominated by the Democratic Party. In Michigan, state supreme court candidates are nominated in partisan primaries, but the general election is nonpartisan.

In the state executive races, four incumbents filed for re-election and four were confirmed as nominees to advance to the general election. Four incumbents did not file for re-election.

The remaining candidates up for election to these offices were selected by the following parties at their respective nominating conventions:
• Green Party: June 20, 2020
• Libertarian Party: July 18, 2020
• U.S. Taxpayers Party of Michigan: July 25, 2020

• Natural Law Party: July 30, 2020

Additional reading


Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for August 2020

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from August 3, 2020, to September 1, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been no new judicial vacancies since the July 2020 report. There are 72 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, 78 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
Nominations: There have been five new nominations since the July 2020 report.

Confirmations: There has been one new confirmation since the July 2020 report.

 

New vacancies

There were 72 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.3.

• The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
• None of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
• 70 (10.3%) 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 U.S. Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

No 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.

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 Trump’s inauguration and as of September 1, 2020.

New nominations

President Donald Trump (R) has announced five new nominations since the July 2020 report.
• Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida.
• Benjamin Beaton, to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky.
• Hector Gonzalez, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.
• Ryan McAllister, to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York.

• David Woll, to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York.

New confirmations

Since August 3, 2020, the United States Senate has confirmed one of President Trump’s nominees to an Article III seat.

• John Cronan, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York.

As of September 1, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 203 of President Trump’s judicial nominees—146 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

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Trump has appointed second-most federal judges through September 1 of a president’s fourth year

Donald Trump has appointed and the Senate has confirmed 203 Article III federal judges through September 1, 2020, his fourth year in office. This is the second-most Article III judicial appointments through this point in all presidencies since Jimmy Carter (D), and is tied with the presidency of Bill Clinton (D). The Senate had confirmed 248 of Carter’s appointees at this point in his term.

The average number of federal judges appointed by a president through September 1 of their fourth year in office is 191.

The median number of Supreme Court justices appointed is two. Along with President Trump, Presidents Barack Obama (D), Bill Clinton (D), and George H.W. Bush (R) had each appointed two Supreme Court justices at this point in their first terms. Ronald Reagan (R) had appointed one, while Carter and George W. Bush (R) had not appointed any.

The median number of United States Court of Appeals appointees is 35. Carter appointed the most with 54, while Reagan appointed the least with 28. Trump’s 53 appointments make up 30% of the total 179 judgeships across the courts of appeal.

The median number of United States District Court appointees is 146. Carter appointed the most with 191, and Reagan appointed the fewest with 117. Trump has appointed 146 district court judges so far. Those appointments make up 22% of the 677 judgeships across the district courts.

Article III federal judges are appointed for life terms by the president of the United States and confirmed by the U.S. Senate per Article III of the United States Constitution. Article III judges include judges on the Supreme Court of the United States, U.S. courts of appeal, U.S. district courts, and the Court of International Trade.

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Massachusetts voters to decide state executive, legislative primaries on September 1

The statewide primary election for Massachusetts is on September 1, 2020. The filing deadline to run passed on June 2. Candidates are running in elections for the following state executive and state legislative offices:
• Massachusetts Governor’s Council (all eight seats)
• State Senate (all 40 seats)

• State House (all 160 seats)

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. The next statewide primaries will be held on September 8 in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

Ballotpedia is also covering congressional elections in Massachusetts and local elections in Suffolk County, Massachusetts. Boston is the county seat of Suffolk County.

Entering the 2020 election, the Massachusetts Governor’s Council has seven Democratic Party members and one vacant seat. The state legislature, called the Massachusetts General Court, has 36 Democrats and four Republicans in the state Senate, and 127 Democrats, 31 Republicans, and one independent member in the state House.

Massachusetts has a divided government. A state government trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and both state legislative chambers.



Voters in Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming decide August 18 congressional primaries

Congressional primary elections for two U.S. Senate seats and 29 U.S. House seats were held in Alaska, Florida, and Wyoming on August 18, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Alaska

One U.S. Senate seat and the sole at-large U.S. House seat were on the ballot in Alaska. The incumbents in both races filed for re-election. Sen. Daniel S. Sullivan (R) was unopposed and advanced to the general election. Rep. Don Young (R) faced challengers in the primary. He advanced to the general election.

Florida

All 27 U.S. House seats in Florida were on the ballot. Twenty-five incumbents—13 Democrats and 12 Republicans—filed for re-election. Fifteen incumbents were unopposed and advanced automatically. Ten remaining incumbents faced challengers in the primary. One incumbent lost his bid for re-election, Rep. Ross Spano (R-15). Rep. Ted Yoho (R-3) did not file for re-election, and Rep. Francis Rooney (R-19) withdrew prior to the election. As of August 19, 2020, the results for the 3rd Congressional District Democratic primary and the 7th Congressional District Republican primary were too close to call.

Wyoming

One U.S. Senate seat and the one at-large U.S. House seat were on the ballot in Wyoming. Sen. Mike Enzi (R) did not file for re-election to the U.S. Senate. Rep. Liz Cheney (R) filed for re-election to the U.S. House. Cheney faced one challenger in the primary and advanced to the general election.

Entering the 2020 election, Alaska’s U.S. congressional delegation has two Republican senators and one Republican representative. Florida has two Republican senators, 14 Republican representatives, and 13 Democratic representatives. Wyoming has two Republican senators and one Republican representative. The U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democratic Party. Only 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for regular election, and two seats are up for special election. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House has 232 Democrats, 198 Republicans, one Libertarian, and four vacancies. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

Additional reading:


Hawaii voters decide August 8 congressional primaries

The congressional primary election for Hawaii was held on August 8, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Candidates ran in elections for the following offices:

Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District:
• Incumbent Ed Case advanced unopposed from the Democratic primary. Ron Curtis advanced from the Republican primary. He received 40.9% of the vote; James Dickens and Nancy Olson were the only other candidates who earned more than 20% of the vote. Three race forecasters rate the general election as Safe/Solid Democratic.

• Nonpartisan candidate Calvin Griffin also appeared on the primary ballot. Hawaii election law requires nonpartisan candidates in partisan races to receive at least 10% of the votes cast for the office or to receive a vote total equal to or greater than the lowest vote total of a winning partisan candidate in order to advance to the general election. Griffin did not meet that threshold.

Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District:

• Joseph Akana advanced from the Republican primary. He earned 43.6% of the vote. Elise Hatsuko Kaneshiro was the only other candidate who earned more than 10% of the vote. In the Democratic primary, Kaiali’i Kahele advanced with 76.5% of the vote. The next-highest vote-getter was Brian Evans, who earned 9.4% of the vote. Incumbent Tulsi Gabbard (D) did not run for re-election. Three race forecasters rate the general election as Safe/Solid Democratic.

Entering the 2020 election, Hawaii’s U.S. congressional delegation has two Democratic senators and two Democratic representatives. The U.S. Senate has 45 Democrats, 53 Republicans, and two independents who caucus with the Democratic Party. Only 33 out of 100 Senate seats are up for regular election, and two seats are up for special election this year. A majority in the chamber requires 51 seats. The U.S. House has 232 Democrats, 198 Republicans, one Libertarian, and four vacancies. All 435 seats are up for election. A majority in the chamber requires 218 seats.

Hawaii’s primary was the 38th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next primary was scheduled for August 11 in Connecticut, Minnesota, Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Additional reading:


Ballotpedia releases federal judicial vacancy count for July 2020

In this month’s federal judicial vacancy count, Ballotpedia tracked nominations, confirmations, and vacancies to all United States Article III federal courts from July 2, 2020, to August 3, 2020. Ballotpedia publishes the federal judicial vacancy count at the start of each month.

HIGHLIGHTS

Vacancies: There have been two new judicial vacancies since the June 2020 report. There are 73 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions on courts covered in this report. Including the U.S. Court of Federal Claims and the United States territorial courts, 79 of 890 active federal judicial positions are vacant.
Nominations: There have been no new nominations since the June 2020 report.

Confirmations: There have been two new confirmations since the June 2020 report.

New vacancies

There were 73 vacancies out of 870 active Article III judicial positions, a total vacancy percentage of 8.4.
• The nine-member U.S. Supreme Court does not have any vacancies.
• None of the 179 U.S. Appeals Court positions are vacant.
• 71 (10.5%) 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 U.S. Constitution, are appointed for life terms.

Two judges left active status, creating Article III life-term judicial vacancies, since the previous vacancy count. 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.
1. Judge Virginia Covington assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

2. Judge Federico Moreno assumed senior status on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

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 Trump’s inauguration and as of August 1, 2020.

New nominations

Trump has not announced any new nominations since the June 2020 report. Since taking office in January 2017, Trump has nominated 262 individuals to Article III positions.

New confirmations
Since July 2, 2020, the United States Senate has confirmed two of Trump’s nominees to Article III seats.
• David Joseph, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Louisiana.

• Scott Hardy, confirmed to the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

As of August 3, 2020, the Senate has confirmed 202 of Trump’s judicial nominees—145 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices—since January 2017.

Additional reading:


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