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Mandy Gillip

Mandy Gillip is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

Thomas Kirsch confirmed to U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit

The U.S. Senate confirmed nominee Thomas Kirsch to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. He was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on November 16, 2020, and confirmed by a 51-44 vote of the U.S. Senate on December 15, 2020. He will join the court upon receiving his judicial commission and taking his judicial oath. He replaces judge Amy Coney Barrett. 

Kirsch previously served as the United States attorney for the Northern District of Indiana from 2017 to 2020.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed 232 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—three Supreme Court justices, 54 appellate court judges, 172 district court judges, and three U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

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Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice to retire in June 2021

Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Joel Bolger is retiring on June 30, 2021. Bolger’s replacement will be Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s (R) second nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Bolger joined the Alaska Supreme Court in 2013. He was appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell (R) to succeed Justice Walter Carpeneti. He became chief justice of the court in July 2018. Bolger is the only justice to have served on every level in the Alaska state court system. Before joining the Alaska Supreme Court, Bolger was a judge on the Alaska Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2013, the Kodiak Superior Court from 2003 to 2008, and the Valdez District Court from 1997 to 2003. Bolger received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Iowa in 1976 and his J.D. from the University of Iowa College of Law in 1978.

Under Alaska law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a seven-member nominating commission. The commission provides a list of two or more candidates to the governor, who must choose from that list. New justices serve an initial term of at least three years, after which the justice must stand for retention in a yes-no election to remain on the bench. Subsequent terms last 10 years. The chief justice of the supreme court is selected by peer vote and serves a three-year term.

In addition to Chief Justice Bolger, the Alaska Supreme Court currently includes the following justices:

  • Daniel Winfree – Appointed by Gov. Sarah Palin (R) in 2008
  • Peter Maassen – Appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell (R) in 2012
  • Susan Carney – Appointed by Gov. Sean Parnell (R) in 2012
  • Dario Borghesan – Appointed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) in 2020

In 2021, there will be three supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies are due to retirements. One vacancy—South Dakota—is in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. The second vacancy—Colorado—is in a state where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement, and the vacancy in Alaska is in a state where a Republican governor appoints the replacement.

In 2020, there have been 23 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, one vacancy occurred when a justice was not retained, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Johnson, Beaton receive judicial commission as U.S. District Court judges

On December 1, 2020, Kristi Johnson received her judicial commission to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi. On the same date, Benjamin Beaton received his judicial commission to the United States District Court for the Western District of Kentucky. 

Johnson was nominated to the court by President Donald Trump (R) on May 4, 2020, to succeed Judge Keith Starrett, who assumed senior status on April 30, 2019. Johnson was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 17, 2020, by a vote of 53-43.

Beaton was nominated by President Donald Trump (R) on September 8, 2020, to succeed Judge Justin Walker, who was elevated to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on June 18, 2020. Beaton was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on November 17, 2020, by a vote of 52-44.

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.

As of December 1, 2020, President Trump had made 227 Article III judicial appointments—three supreme court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 168 district court judges, and three judges on the Court of International Trade.

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SCOTUS postpones case hearing

Department of Justice v. House Committee on the Judiciary, which was previously scheduled for argument before the Supreme Court of the United States on December 2, 2020, has been removed from the court’s December argument calendar after the court granted the House Judiciary Committee’s motion for the move.

The case came on a writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. It concerns the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and whether an impeachment trial conducted by the U.S. Senate counts as a judicial proceeding for the purposes of disclosing secret grand jury information.

The U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary requested access to secret grand jury materials referenced in Robert Mueller’s report about his investigation into potential Russian interference in the 2016 election. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia agreed to disclose the materials, ruling that a potential U.S. Senate impeachment trial counted as a judicial proceeding that allowed disclosure of secret grand jury materials. The D.C. Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision.

As of November 20, 2020, the United States Supreme Court had agreed to hear 45 cases during its 2020-2021 term. Of those, 12 were originally scheduled for the 2019-2020 term but were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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California governor confirms Jenkins to state supreme court

The California State Commission on Judicial Appointments confirmed Martin Jenkins to the California Supreme Court on November 10, 2020. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) appointed Jenkins on October 5. Jenkins succeeds Justice Ming Chin, who retired on August 31. Jenkins is Newsom’s first appointee to the seven-member supreme court.

Under California law, state supreme court justices are recommended by the Commission on Judicial Nominee Evaluation to the governor. The governor then selects the new justice, who must be confirmed by the state Commission on Judicial Appointments.

Jenkins was an associate judge on the California First District Court of Appeal, Division Three, from 2008 to 2019. He was appointed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R). He stepped down in 2019 after he was appointed judicial appointments secretary by Gov. Newsom.

From 1997 to 2008, Jenkins was a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. President Bill Clinton (D) nominated Jenkins on July 24, 1997, to a seat vacated by Eugene Lynch. The U.S. Senate confirmed Jenkins on November 9, 1997, and he received commission on November 12. Jenkins served on the U.S. district court until his resignation on April 3, 2008.

Jenkins earned his A.A. from the City College of San Francisco in 1973, his B.A. from Santa Clara University (formerly the University of Santa Clara) in 1976, and his J.D. from the University of San Francisco School of Law in 1980.

A press release from Gov. Newsom’s office said Jenkins “would be the first openly gay California Supreme Court justice and only the third African American man ever to serve on the state’s highest court. It has been 29 years since an African American man has served on the California Supreme Court.”

The California Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of October 2020, four judges on the court were appointed by Democratic governors, and two judges were appointed by Republican governors.

In 2020, there have been 22 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 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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5,904 state legislative seats up for election on November 3

Forty-four states and five United States territories—American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S Virgin Islands—are holding state legislative general elections on November 3, 2020. There are 5,904 seats up for regular election, and 15 seats up for special election, meaning 5,919 state legislative seats are on the ballot on November 3. Incumbents running for re-election make up 82.4 percent (4,870) of the candidates running for the state legislative seats. Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, and Virginia are the six states not holding regular state legislative elections in 2020. 

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President Trump announces judicial nominee

On October 1, President Donald Trump (R) announced the nomination of Joseph Dawson to the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, which is an Article III federal judicial position. Article III judges are appointed by the president, confirmed by the Senate, and serve for life.

Since assuming office in January 2017, Trump has nominated 271 individuals to federal judgeships, 218 of whom have been confirmed. The president nominated 69 judicial nominees in 2017, 92 in 2018, and 77 in 2019.

Since January 2017, the Senate has confirmed 218 of Trump’s judicial nominees—161 district court judges, 53 appeals court judges, two Court of International Trade judges, and two Supreme Court justices.

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Did COVID-19 affect the number of candidates who filed for election in 2020?

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, states have changed election dates, voting procedures, and candidate filing deadlines. We took a look at the potential effect these changes had on candidate filing ratios (the number of candidates who filed compared to the number of seats up for election).

We chose the date of comparison as March 13, 2020—the date the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) urged countries to take a comprehensive approach to fight COVID-19. The data shows that the number of candidates who filed in 2020 and in 2018 is similar.

In 2020, 0.13 more candidates filed for election on or before March 13 than those who filed on or before the same date in 2018.

In 2020, 0.21 more candidates filed for election after March 13 than filed for election after March 13 in 2018.

In 2018, 2,294 candidates filed to run for the U.S. House. For this year’s elections, the number is 2,378. In both years, all 435 U.S. House seats were up for election.

The five states with the largest changes in candidate filing ratios—calculated by dividing the number of candidates who filed for election by the number of seats up for election—(positive or negative) from 2018 to 2020 are:

New Hampshire: -7.00
Utah: +6.25
Hawaii: +4.00
Idaho: -4.00
South Carolina: -3.15

In response to the coronavirus pandemic, 25 states have changed election dates at the state or local level and 40 states have made changes to voting procedures. Nineteen states have made changes to candidate filing deadlines.

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U.S. Senate confirms six U.S. District Court nominees

The U.S. Senate confirmed six nominees to U.S. District Court judgeships. The 94 U.S. District Courts are the general trial courts of the United States federal courts. The Senate has confirmed 214 of President Trump’s Article III judicial nominees—two Supreme Court justices, 53 appellate court judges, 157 district court judges, and two U.S. Court of International Trade judges—since January 2017.

The confirmed nominees are:

Stephen McGlynn and David Dugan, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. When they assume office (after receiving their judicial commission and taking their judicial oath), the court will have:
• No vacancies.
• Two Democrat-appointed judges and two Republican-appointed judges.

Stanley Blumenfeld, Mark Scarsi, and John Holcomb, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. When they assume office, the court will have:
• Seven vacancies.
• Nine Democrat-appointed judges and 12 Republican-appointed judges.

Todd Robinson, confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. After Robinson assumes office, the court will have:
• Four vacancies.
• Four Democrat-appointed judges and five Republican-appointed judges.

Blumenfeld, Scarsi, Holcomb, and Robinson are the first four District Court nominees to be confirmed to a California court since Trump took office.

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Voters to decide Massachusetts’ congressional primaries

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 congressional offices:
• One Class II seat in the United States Senate

• Nine seats in the United States House of Representatives

Candidates are competing to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020.

In the Democratic primary race for the Class II U.S. Senate seat, incumbent Edward Markey—first elected in 2013—faces challenger Joseph Kennedy III, while the Republican primary features candidates Shiva Ayyadurai and Kevin O’Connor.

Across the nine U.S. House district races in Massachusetts, eight incumbents filed for re-election. Only District 4 incumbent Joseph Kennedy III is not seeking re-election, opting instead to run for the U.S. Senate seat. The open District 4 seat has drawn a field of nine Democratic primary candidates and two Republican primary candidates.

In Districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, and 9, the Democratic incumbents are running unopposed. In District 8, the Democratic incumbent faces one challenger. In Districts 2, 5, 6, and 9, the Republican candidates are uncontested, while the Republican primaries in districts 1, 3, 7, and 8 were canceled after no candidate either filed or qualified for the ballot.

The next congressional primaries will be held on September 8 in New Hampshire and Rhode Island.

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