Author

Madison Adkins

Madison Adkins is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Federal judge rules California’s ban on assault weapons is unconstitutional

Federal District Court Judge Roger Benitez ruled on June 4 that California’s Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, which banned all assault weapons in California, violates the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and unlawfully restricts the kinds of firearms protected under previous U.S. Supreme Court rulings. ​He wrote, “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.”

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 was California’s first assault weapons act. It defined an assault weapon as any firearm specified in Penal Code 12276 and made it illegal for such firearms to be sold, purchased, manufactured, distributed, or imported. The California Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the act in Kasler v. Lockyer in 2000.

The current case originated in 2019, when James Miller, a state resident, and the San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee, filed a lawsuit against then-Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) issued a statement in response to the judge’s ruling, saying, “Today’s decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period.”

To read the full ruling, click here.

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Ruth Ruggero Hughs resigns as Texas Secretary of State

Ruth Ruggero Hughs resigned as Texas secretary of state effective May 31, after the Nominations Committee of the Texas State Senate did not take up her nomination for another term.

Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appointed Hughs on August 19, 2019, to succeed David Whitley after he did not receive enough confirmation votes from the state Senate to remain in office. Hughs previously served as the chair of the Texas Workforce Commission.

The Texas secretary serves as the chief election officer for Texas, assists election officials at the county level, and ensures that election laws are uniformly throughout Texas. Additionally, the secretary publishes government rules and regulations and commissions notaries public.

Texas is one of nine states where the governor selects the secretary of state. So far, Gov. Abbott has appointed four secretaries of state.

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Tennessee Representative Mike Carter dies

Tennessee state Representative Mike Carter (R) died from pancreatic cancer on May 15, 2021.

Carter first won election to the 29th District on Nov. 6, 2012. He was subsequently re-elected four times, most recently in 2020. 

Governor Bill Lee (R) said in a post on Twitter, “I will miss Mike Carter who was a leader, friend and brother in Christ. Maria and I pray for the Carter family and we give thanks for his life.”

Tennessee uses special elections to fill vacancies in the legislature when 12 months or more remain in an unfilled term. However, the legislative body in the county where the vacancy occurred may also appoint an interim officeholder until the special election is held.

This is the sixth vacancy in 2021 caused by the death of a serving legislator. So far this year, there have been 48 vacancies in 28 state legislatures. Twenty-nine (29) of those vacancies have been filled.

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Annette Ziegler becomes chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Annette Ziegler became chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 1, beginning a two-year term in that role. Ziegler succeeds Patience Roggensack, who had served as chief justice since April 2015.

Ziegler was first elected to the court in 2007. She previously served as a Washington County Circuit Court judge, becoming the first female judge in that county.

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan. Ballotpedia’s State Court Partisanship Study identifies Ziegler as a mild Republican.

Until 2015, the justice with the longest continuous service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court served as the chief justice, unless that justice declined (in which case the role passed to the next senior justice of the court). Voters passed a state constitutional amendment in April of that year that changed the selection method to a vote by current justices. 

Chief justices in Wisconsin and 22 other states are selected by chamber vote. Fourteen (14) states select chief justices by appointment, seven by popular vote, and six by seniority.

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Aaron von Ehlinger resigns from Idaho House of Representatives

Idaho state Representative Aaron von Ehlinger resigned on April 29 after the Idaho House Ethics and Policy Committee found his “conduct unbecoming” of a representative and voted unanimously to recommend his immediate suspension and expulsion from the House. 

Von Ehlinger said in his resignation letter, “I maintain my innocence of any wrongdoing of which I have been accused in this matter, let alone any violation of any law, rule, or policy of the state of Idaho or of this body.”

Representative Wendy Horman (R) said, “His behavior has poisoned the reputation of all of us and tarnished and discredited other elected officials who serve.”

Von Ehlinger was appointed to the Idaho House of Representatives to represent District 6A by Gov. Brad Little (R) on June 3, 2020.

If there is a vacancy in the Idaho State Legislature, the governor is responsible for appointing a replacement. The political party committee that last held the vacant seat has 15 days after the vacancy to submit a list of three recommended candidates to the governor, who selects from among those three.

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Missouri House of Representatives unanimously expels Rick Roeber

The Missouri House of Representatives voted unanimously on April 21 to expel Rep. Rick Roeber (R). On April 19, the House Ethics committee released a 13-page report following its investigation into allegations that Roeber had abused his children. The Committee found the testimony and allegations of Roeber’s now-adult children to be credible and recommended Roeber’s expulsion.

Ethics Chair Travis Fitzwater (R) and House Speaker Rob Vescovo (R) issued a joint statement, saying: “Our caucus and our institution have a zero tolerance policy for anyone who would endanger the well-being of a child, and it’s clear that Rick Roeber’s heinous actions make him not only unfit for office, but should also make him the subject of a thorough investigation by law enforcement.”

Roeber was first elected to represent District 34 in November 2020. The seat had been vacant since July 2019, following the death of former Rep. Rebecca Roeber (R), Rick Roeber’s wife.

This year, there have been 40 state legislative vacancies in 22 states. Twenty-seven (27) of those vacancies have been filled. So far in 2021, only one other state legislator—Luke Simons (R-N.D.)—has been removed from office. The North Dakota House of Representatives had expelled Simons on March 4 by a vote of 69-25.

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DeAnne DeFuccio sworn in to New Jersey General Assembly District 39

DeAnne DeFuccio (R) was sworn in on April 9 to a seat in the New Jersey Assembly, representing the 39th District. DeFuccio won the special election held at the Bergen County Republican Organization on March 31 by a vote of 88-81 over John Azzaritti. 

DeFuccio will serve the remainder of Holly Schepisi’s (R) term, which was set to expire in January 2022. Schepisi vacated the seat after she was selected to represent the 39th Senate District following Gerald Cardinale’d (R) death.

DeFuccio has served on the borough council of Upper Saddle River since March 2020. Previously, she worked as an attorney.

The Republican primary for the 39th Assembly District will take place on June 8, and DeFuccio has filed to run for re-election. Azzaritti, John Glidden, and Jonathan Kurpis will challenge incumbents DeFuccio and Robert Auth (R) in the primary.

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Costa Constantinides resigns from New York City Council

Costa Constantinides resigned from the New York City Council on April 9 after announcing he would leave to take a position as CEO of the Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens on March 31. Constantinides had served as the District 22 representative since 2013. His current term was set to expire on Dec. 31, 2021.

The New York City Council is the city’s primary legislative body. It is responsible for adopting the city budget, approving mayoral appointees, overseeing the use of municipal properties, levying taxes, and making or amending city laws, policies, and ordinances.

The New York City Council is composed of 51 members, each of whom are elected in partisan elections by the city’s fifty-one districts. The current partisan composition is 45 Democrats and three Republicans with three vacancies. The city’s charter requires Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) to schedule a special election to fill the vacancy left by Constantinides’ departure.

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March 2021 partisan composition of state legislative seats — 54.3% Republicans and 44.9% Democrats

According to March’s partisan count of the 7,383 state legislators across the United States, 54.27% of all state legislators are Republicans, and 44.91% are Democrats.

Ballotpedia tallies the partisan balance of state legislatures, or which political party holds the majority of the seats in each chamber, at the end of every month. Republicans control 61 chambers, while Democrats control 37. One chamber (Alaska’s state House) has a power-sharing agreement between the two parties.

Republicans held 1,089 of the 1,972 total state senate seats—up five seats from February—and 2,918 of the total 5,411 state house seats—up one seat from last month. Democrats held 869 state senate seats (up three seats) and 2,447 state house seats (down two seats). Independent or third-party legislators held 38 seats. There were 22 vacant seats.

In March, Democrats saw a net increase of one seat, while Republicans saw a net increase of five seats. Compared to March 2020, Democrats have lost five state Senate seats (874 v. 869) and 139 state House seats (2,586 v. 2,447). Republicans have gained four state Senate seats (1,085 v 1,089) and 139 state House seats (2,779 v 2,918). 

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Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould retires

Andrew Gould retired as an associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court on April 1. He had announced that he would retire from the court on March 12.

Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed Gould to the state supreme court on Nov. 28, 2016, after a new bill expanded the court from five justices to seven. Gould won a retention election in 2020, receiving 68.1% of the vote. His current term would have expired in January 2027.

Ducey will appoint a replacement justice to the state supreme court to fill this vacancy. Newly-appointed judges must stand for retention to remain on the court during the next general election after they serve at least two years on the bench.

The Arizona Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Republican governors appointed all seven judges on the court. Governor Ducey appointed five, and former Gov. Janice Kay Brewer (R) appointed two.

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