New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Nakamura to retire in August

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Nakamura is retiring on August 1, 2020. Nakamura joined the court in 2015 after being nominated by Gov. Susana Martinez (R). Before that, Nakamura was a judge on the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. She also worked in private practice and for the State Land Office. She received her undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico and her J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

In the event of a midterm vacancy, New Mexico Supreme Court justices are chosen by assisted gubernatorial appointment. The governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. Nakamura’s replacement will be Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) third nominee to the five-member supreme court. The new appointee must stand for partisan election in November 2020. Justices wishing to serve additional terms must participate in uncontested retention elections; the justice must receive 57% of the vote to retain his or her seat.

The New Mexico Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:

  • Barbara Vigil – Elected in 2012
  • Michael Vigil – Elected in 2018
  • Judith Nakamura – Appointed by Gov. Martinez (R) in 2015
  • Shannon Bacon – Appointed by Gov. Lujan Grisham (D) in 2019
  • David Thomson – Appointed by Gov. Lujan Grisham in 2019

In 2020, there have been 15 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Ten vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Four 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.

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Murphy nominates Pierre-Louis to New Jersey Supreme Court

Gov. Phil Murphy (D) nominated attorney Fabiana Pierre-Louis to the New Jersey Supreme Court on June 5, in anticipation of the retirement of Justice Walter Timpone. Timpone will be required to step down from the court when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old this November.

Under New Jersey law, state court judges are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the state Senate. If confirmed, Pierre-Louis would become the first Black female justice to join the court. She would also be the first Black justice to sit on the supreme court bench since John E. Wallace, Jr., for whom Pierre-Louis clerked after law school, left the court in 2010.

Founded in 1776, the New Jersey Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. Of the seven justices currently on the court, two were appointed by a Democratic governor, and five were appointed by a Republican governor. Pierre-Louis is Gov. Murphy’s first appointment to the court.

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Muscatel resigns from New Hampshire House of Representatives

Rep. Garrett Muscatel (D) resigned from his seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives on June 9, according to House Speaker Stephen Shurtleff (D). Muscatel, who was one of four legislators representing District Grafton 12, was first elected to the chamber in 2018.

WMUR reported that the New Hampshire Republican Party argued that Muscatel was no longer a resident of the state of New Hampshire. Muscatel was a student of Dartmouth University and lived in a dormitory on the university’s campus until student housing closed in March due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. An announcement from Stanford University Law School, where Muscatel plans to start studying in the fall, described him as being from California. In response to the reports that he was no longer a New Hampshire resident, Muscatel said, “I am and will continue to be a New Hampshire resident.” Prior to his resignation, Muscatel had announced that he did not intend to run for re-election this year.

Muscatel’s departure from the legislature creates the fifth vacancy in the 400-person state House. The partisan composition of the remaining seats is 232 Democrats, 162 Republicans, and one Libertarian. Ballotpedia has identified the New Hampshire House of Representatives as one of 22 state legislative battleground chambers for the 2020 cycle. Republicans need to flip 35 seats, or 9% of the total seats, in order to win a majority in the chamber.

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Hawaii governor extends travel restrictions for international and out-of-state travelers

On June 10, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) extended the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine for those traveling to Hawaii from international or out-of-state locations through the end of July. Beginning June 16, the Hawaii National Guard will check passengers’ temperatures arriving through Daniel K. Inouye International Airport. Each passenger will also need to have their travel verified and are required to sign a mandatory order for self-quarantine.

Governors or state agencies issued 21 executive orders placing restrictions on out-of-state visitors in response to the coronavirus pandemic. At least nine have been rescinded.

Utah gubernatorial candidate Jon Huntsman tests positive for coronavirus

On June 10, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman (R) announced that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Huntsman, who served as governor of the Beehive State between 2005 and 2009, is once again making a bid for the governor’s seat in Utah’s 2020 gubernatorial election.

Huntsman wrote in a tweet that he had experienced “classic symptoms.” He said he was initially given incorrect test results by the Salt Lake County Health Department before receiving the correct results.

Huntsman served as Ambassador to China under President Barack Obama (D) from 2009 to 2011, and as Ambassador to Russia under President Donald Trump (R) from 2017 to 2019.

He will face off against Spencer Cox, Gregory Hughes, and Thomas Wright in the Republican primary on June 30, 2020.

Ballotpedia tracks politicians and government officials who have been diagnosed or tested for coronavirus, or become quarantined.

7,961 major party candidates have filed for 2020 state legislative elections

Every week, we compile the latest numbers on state legislative candidates across the country. As of June 9, 2020, we’ve collected post-filing deadline data in 30 states. In 2020, 3,697 state legislative seats are up for regular election in those states, compared to 3,670 in 2018.

7,961 major party candidates—3,831 Democrats and 4,130 Republicans—have filed to run for state legislature in these states, compared to 8,511—4,300 Democrats and 4,211 Republicans—in 2018.

Elections in open seats tend to be more competitive than those where an incumbent is seeking re-election. So far, there are fewer open seats in 2020 than in 2018. In 2020, 559 major party incumbents (15% of seats up for election) are not running for re-election, compared to 738 major party incumbents (20%) in 2018.

More incumbents face primary challenges in 2020 than in 2018. So far in 2020, 642 primaries feature an incumbent. Additionally, one independent incumbent faced a top-two primary in California. In 2018, there were 623 such primaries in addition to a Libertarian incumbent facing a nonpartisan primary in Nebraska. In 2018, 87% of incumbents in these states won their primaries.

Overall, there are fewer contested state legislative primaries in 2020 than in 2018, with 1,309 and 1,501, respectively. These totals include all contested top-two and nonpartisan primaries.

On November 3, 2020, 1,164 state senate seats and 4,711 state house seats are up for regular election for a total of 5,875 seats across 86 chambers in 44 states. There is a Republican majority in 52 of those chambers, a Democratic majority in 33, and a power-sharing agreement in the Alaska House.

See the tables below for more information:

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Florida Supreme Court extends suspension of jury trials through July 17

On June 8, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles Canady issued an order extending the suspension of civil and criminal jury trials through July 17. Jury trials were first suspended on March 13. The court subsequently extended that order, first through April 17, then through May 29, and again through July 2.

Ballotpedia is tracking how state courts are responding to the coronavirus pandemic.

Thirty-four states suspended in-person proceedings statewide, and 16 states suspended in-person proceedings on the local level.

New Louisiana Superintendent of Education assumes office

The new Louisiana state superintendent of education, Dr. Cade Brumley, started with the Department of Education on Monday, June 8. The Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education first appointed Brumley to the position on May 20, 2020, and the Louisiana State Senate confirmed his nomination on June 1.

Brumley replaces former superintendent John White, who resigned from the position in March 2020. Beth Scioneaux, the Deputy Superintendent for Management and Finance at the Department of Education, served as interim superintendent from March until June.

The education superintendent position, which is nonpartisan, is one of twelve state-level executive offices that Ballotpedia covers in Louisiana. Of the other nine individual state executive offices, two are nonpartisan, six are held by Republicans, and one–the governor’s office–is occupied by Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards. The Republican Party holds a majority on both the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and on the state Public Service Commission.

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Five states to hold Congressional, state-level primaries June 9

Five states are holding primaries for congressional and state-level office June 9—Georgia, Nevada, North Dakota, South Carolina, and West Virginia. Ballotpedia has identified nine of those primaries as battlegrounds. The nine battleground primaries include one for U.S. Senate, two for governor of West Virginia, and six for U.S. House. Six are Republican primaries and three are Democratic.

While Nevada, North Dakota, and South Carolina had always scheduled to hold their primaries on this date, Georgia and West Virginia’s primaries were originally scheduled to take place in May but were delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic. West Virginia’s primary was initially scheduled to take place May 12 while Georgia’s was set for May 19.

Among the races we’ll be covering is the Republican primary for South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District. Four Republicans are running for the nomination to challenge incumbent Joe Cunningham (D), whose victory in 2018 made him the first Democrat to win election from the district since 1978. Local media have identified Kathy Landing, who is backed by the House Freedom Fund and former U.S. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and Nancy Mace, who has been endorsed by Club for Growth, the National Rifle Association, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), as leading candidates. Should no candidate win more than 50% of the vote, the top two finishers will advance to a runoff on June 23.

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Florida Supreme Court rules that the ballot summary for the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative is misleading

In 4-1 decision, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that the ballot summary of the Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles and Shotguns Initiative was misleading. Ban Assault Weapons NOW is sponsoring the measure targeting the 2022 ballot.

The measure would ban possession of semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, with certain exceptions involving registration requirements. The measure would define Semiautomatic as “any weapon which fires a single projectile or a number of ball shots through a rifled or smooth bore for each single function of the trigger without further manual action required.” Assault weapon would be defined by the measure as “any semiautomatic rifle or shotgun capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in a fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition feeding device.” If a person lawfully owned an assault weapon before the measure’s effective date, their ownership of such weapon would still be legal (a) for one year after the measure’s effective date or (b) after the owner registers the weapon by make, model, and serial number with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Records of such registration would be available for federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.

On July 26, 2019, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R) filed a motion with the state supreme court arguing the measure’s ballot language was misleading and unclear and that the initiative should be blocked from the ballot. Moody argued, “The ballot title and summary do not inform Florida’s electorate that virtually every lawful owner of a semi-automatic long-gun will be forced to register with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, or that this registry would be available to all local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. Nor do the ballot title and summary state the time within which preexisting long-gun owners must register their firearms that meet the proposed amendment’s definition of ‘assault weapon’ and avail themselves of the amendment’s grandfathering provision.”

In its decision released on June 4, the Florida Supreme Court agreed with Moody. The court wrote, “While the ballot summary purports to exempt registered assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to the Initiative’s effective date, the Initiative does not categorically exempt the assault weapon, only the current owner’s possession of that assault weapon. The ballot summary is therefore affirmatively misleading.” Judge Jorge Labarga dissented arguing that the 75-word limit was not enough to provide every detail of the initiative but that the ballot summary was still clear.”

Gail Schwartz, the chair of Ban Assault Weapons NOW, released a statement in response to the court’s ruling that said, “The Supreme Court, now controlled by the NRA in the same way as our Governor and our Legislature, has fundamentally failed the people of Florida. Not only has the Legislature recently made it harder to pass ballot initiatives, now the people must also face a Court of rightwing ideologues who will only approve initiatives they agree with politically.”

According to the Florida Secretary of State’s website, Ban Assault Weapons NOW had submitted 174,564 valid signatures. In order to obtain a spot on the 2022 ballot, proponents of the initiative would need to begin the process again with an amended ballot summary.

The total number of signatures required for an initiated constitutional amendment to qualify for the ballot is equal to 8% of the votes cast in the preceding presidential election. Florida also has a signature distribution requirement, which requires that signatures equaling at least 8% of the district-wide vote in the last presidential election be collected from at least half (14) of the state’s 27 congressional districts.

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