Connecticut Supreme Court justice to retire

On May 27, 2020, Connecticut Supreme Court Justice Richard Palmer stepped down from the court after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years.

Palmer joined the Connecticut Supreme Court in 1993 after being appointed by Gov. Lowell Weicker and confirmed by the Connecticut General Assembly. Palmer was renominated and reconfirmed every eight years following.

Prior to joining the court, Palmer served as the chief state’s attorney for Connecticut from 1991 to 1993. From 1980 to 1982 and from 1987 to 1990, he was an assistant U.S. attorney for Connecticut. Palmer was in private practice from 1984 to 1986. He was a law clerk to Judge Jon Newman of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut.

Palmer received his undergraduate degree from Trinity College in 1972 and his J.D., with high honors, from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1977. During his legal studies, he was a member of the Connecticut Law Review.

Palmer’s replacement will be Gov. Ned Lamont’s (D) first nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

Under Connecticut law, state supreme court justices are selected using the assisted appointment method. Judges are selected by a commission-selection, political appointment method whereby a judicial nominating commission screens candidates and submits a list of names to the governor, who must appoint a judge from that list. The Connecticut General Assembly must then confirm the appointee. Judges serve for eight years. After that, they must be renominated by the governor and approved by the General Assembly to remain on the court.

Founded in 1784, the Connecticut Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. The current justices are:

In 2020, there have been 13 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Eight 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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Candidate filing period to pass in five states

The filing deadlines to run for state-level offices in Alaska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Minnesota will pass next week. Alaska’s, Kansas’, and Wisconsin’s filing deadlines will pass on June 1. The filing deadlines in Hawaii and Minnesota will pass on June 2.

In Alaska, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • State Senate (10 seats)
  • State House (40 seats)
  • Additionally, Alaska will hold retention elections for one supreme court justice and one court of appeals justice.
In Kansas, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • State Board of Education (5 seats)
  • State Senate (40 seats)
  • State House (125 seats)
  • Additionally, Kansas will hold retention elections for one supreme court justice and six court of appeals justices.

Ballotpedia is also covering local offices in Sedgwick County, Kansas.

In Wisconsin, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • State Senate (16 seats)
  • State House (99 seats)
In Hawaii, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • Office of Hawaiian Affairs (4 seats)
  • State Senate (13 seats)
  • State House (51 seats)

Ballotpedia is also covering local offices in Honolulu, Hawaii.

In Minnesota, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • State Senate (67 seats)
  • State House (134 seats)
  • Supreme Court (2 seats)
  • Court of Appeals (6 seats)
Ballotpedia is also covering local offices in the following areas:
  • Minneapolis Public Schools (4 seats)
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Hennepin County, Minnesota
  • Ramsey County, Minnesota

Kansas’ primary is scheduled for August 4, and Hawaii’s primary is scheduled for August 8. Minnesota and Wisconsin’s primaries are scheduled for August 11. Alaska’s primary will be held on August 18. The general elections in all five states are scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Alaska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Hawaii, and Minnesota’s statewide filing deadlines are the 41st, 42nd, 43rd, 44th, and 45th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on June 11 in Connecticut.

Hawaii has a Democratic state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. Alaska, Kansas, Wisconsin, and Minnesota have a divided government where no party holds a trifecta.

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Former Alabama lawmaker joins the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services


Former Alabama Representative April Weaver was appointed to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on May 18, 2020.

Weaver will serve as a regional director overseeing Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, and North Carolina. She reports to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

Weaver was first elected to the Alabama House of Representatives on November 3, 2010, to serve District 49. In 2018, she was reelected with 97.2% of the vote. On May 12, 2020, she announced her resignation from the Alabama House of Representatives.

Weaver’s departure represents the only vacancy in Alabama’s lower chamber.

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Virginia Supreme Court to hear environmental law case on oyster fisheries

On May 18, 2020, the Virginia Supreme Court announced that it will hear a case between the City of Suffolk and a group of Virginia oyster fishermen. The original lawsuit was filed in November 2018 by C. Robert Johnson III, Lisa Lawson Johnson, Thomas Hazelwood, Johnson and Sons Seafood, and Hazelwood Oyster Farms, who sued the city and the Hampton Roads Sanitation District.

The plaintiffs alleged that the city and the sanitation department were polluting the Nansemond River by depositing sewage and allowing unwanted stormwater to enter the waterway. They argued that the government has taken their property by causing the river to become so polluted that they cannot harvest oysters from waterways in which they hold leases.

Circuit Court Justice L. Wayne Farmer took up the case on April 9, 2019. The lawsuit was dismissed in September 2019. The appeal took issue with Justice Farmer’s use of caselaw from 1919 which they argued is not in consonance with modern environmental regulation policy.

Joseph Waldo Lyle, who will be representing the oystermen before the state supreme court, remarked “The law says governments can pollute the waterways… It’s not 100 years ago. It is today, and the issue will always be, how can you put untreated raw sewage into a river that people fish, raise oysters, and swim, and boat in?” He said, “The Supreme Court of Virginia has said this case is important enough to determine whether or not the city’s right and they can discard waste and human sewage into the Nansemond River… It’s a very important, precedent-setting case.”

There are two ways that appeals cases can reach the Virginia Supreme Court. The most common is based on the argument in a dissenting opinion at the level of the court of appeals, and the least common is when a party successfully seeks discretionary review by the supreme court. The plaintiffs’ case sufficiently convinced the justices of the Virginia Supreme Court that the appeal merited discretionary review of the lower court, allowing the case to circumvent hearing in the appellate court.

Virginia is one of only two states in the country that uses legislative selection to appoint state supreme court justices. Virginia has used legislative selection to select its justices since 1776 when the state constitution was written. This year, there are no vacancies on the Virginia Supreme court, nor are there any retention elections for justices currently sitting on the court.

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Fagan wins Democratic nomination for Oregon Secretary of State

Shemia Fagan became the presumptive Democratic nominee for Oregon Secretary of State on May 22 after her opponent Mark Hass conceded. As of May 25, Fagan received 36.2% of the votes to Hass’s 35.6%, a margin of 3,343 votes. Jamie McLeod-Skinner, received 27.5% of the vote.

Fagan will face state Sen. Kim Thatcher (R) in the general election.

Oregon elections are conducted entirely by mail. Preliminary results released on May 19 showed Hass with a lead over Fagan. By late Wednesday, Fagan had taken the lead as additional mail-in ballots were counted.

Fagan, a state senator, said she “spent her career fighting for working Oregonians, holding big corporations accountable, and speaking truth to power.” She received endorsements from the Oregon AFL-CIO and Planned Parenthood PAC.

Hass, also a state senator, said he had “experience in getting big things passed into law” and had “specialized in the very things required of the Secretary of State.” He was endorsed by former Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and The Oregonian.

McLeod-Skinner, the 2018 Democratic nominee for Oregon’s 2nd Congressional District, said she was “the only candidate who has developed and implemented policy systems for land, water, and natural resource management.” She received endorsements from the Sierra Club of Oregon and Our Revolution Portland.

Unlike many states, Oregon’s secretary of state is first in the line of succession to the governorship. There is no lieutenant governor in Oregon. Four governors, including incumbent Kate Brown (D), were originally secretaries of state who succeeded to the office following a vacancy in the governorship.

Oregon is one of 14 states with divided triplex control, with a Democratic governor, a Democratic attorney general, and a Republican secretary of state. Incumbent Secretary of State Bev Clarno (R) was appointed to the office following the death of Dennis Richardson (R) in February 2019. Clarno did not seek a full term in 2020.

Michigan legislature asks state Supreme Court to take up lawsuit challenging governor’s emergency powers

On Friday, May 22, Republicans in the Michigan Senate and House asked the Michigan Supreme Court to consider a lawsuit filed by House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R) and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R) challenging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s (D) emergency declarations issued in response to the coronavirus.

A Michigan Court of Claims Judge ruled against the legislature on Thursday, May 21, but attorneys for the House and Senate asked the state’s highest court to grant the lawsuit an “emergency-bypass review” to avoid a decision from the Court of Appeals.

Gov. Whitmer has issued emergency declarations, including the state’s stay-at-home order, under two laws, one from 1976 and one from 1945. The legislature’s lawsuit challenges the Governor’s authority to issue statewide and indefinite emergency declarations under both laws. The Court of Claims ruled that Gov. Whitmer exceeded her authority under the 1976 law but not the 1945 law, and dismissed the lawsuit.

Illinois state representative tests positive for COVID-19

Illinois state representative Edgar Gonzales Jr. (D) announced in a Facebook post on May 18 that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Gonzales was appointed to represent District 21 in January, 2020, to fill the vacancy left by former Rep. Celina Villanueva (D), who was appointed to the Illinois State Senate.

All Illinois legislators were tested prior to returning to work at the State Capitol. Gonzales received his positive test result two days before the General Assembly was set to reconvene. He said he was quarantining at home while he recovered.

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

As of May 27, we have tracked:
• Six federal officials diagnosed with coronavirus, and 40 federal officials quarantined
• 32 state officials diagnosed with coronavirus, and 67 state officials quarantined

After two-month delay, Florida governor appoints two Florida Supreme Court justices

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) appointed John Couriel and Renatha Francis to the Florida Supreme Court on May 26, 2020. Couriel and Francis succeeded Justices Robert J. Luck and Barbara Lagoa, who vacated the seats in November 2019 after being elevated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit. Couriel and Francis will join one other DeSantis nominee, Justice Carlos Muñiz, on the seven-member supreme court.

Under Florida law, state supreme court justices are chosen using the assisted appointment method, where the governor chooses a nominee from a list of potential candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission. Newly appointed judges serve for at least one year, after which they appear in a yes-no retention election held during the next general election. If retained, judges serve six-year terms. To remain on the bench, Couriel and Francis must run for retention in 2022.

The appointments were delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. Normally under state law, DeSantis would have needed to select the new justices by March 23. He delayed the appointments in March, saying he had not had time to review the candidates’ application materials.

Couriel is an attorney at Kobre & Kim in Miami. Before that, he was an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Florida’s Criminal Division. Couriel obtained his bachelor’s degree (A.B.) and his J.D. from Harvard. He was a 2016 Republican candidate for Florida House of Representatives District 114 and a 2012 Republican candidate for Florida State Senate District 35.

Francis is a judge on the Florida 15th Circuit Court. She was appointed to that court on October 1, 2019, by Gov. DeSantis. Before that, she served on the Florida 11th Circuit Court (2018-2019) and on the Miami-Dade County Court (2017-2018). Francis earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of the West Indies and a J.D. from Florida Coastal School of Law. She was born in Jamaica and is the first Caribbean-American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court.

Media coverage of the appointment process focused on issues of diversity and questions surrounding Francis’ eligibility. Appellate lawyer Adam Richardson wrote in Slate that the governor was not authorized to appoint Francis, arguing she did not meet the requirement that Florida Supreme Court justices be admitted to practice law in the state for 10 years prior to assuming the bench. Other writers, like Eugene K. Pettis in the Tallahassee Democrat, argued that waiting to appoint Francis “outweighs the ramifications of our high court lacking diversity for years to come.”

In 2019, there were 22 supreme court vacancies across 14 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Of those 22 vacancies, 15 are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement. Six vacancies occurred in a state where a Democratic governor fills vacancies, while another occurred in a state where a Republican-controlled legislature appoints replacements.

In 2020, there have been 13 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. Eight vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement, and 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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One Indiana Supreme Court justice faces a retention election in November

One Indiana Supreme Court justice, Christopher M. Goff, will face a retention election on November 3, 2020. He was appointed in 2017 by Governor Eric Holcomb (R).

Currently, every justice on the court was appointed by a Republican governor.

The governor appoints the five justices of the supreme court through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Indiana State Bar Association has majority control over the judicial nominating commission. The Indiana Commission on Judicial Qualifications is made up of seven members: three lawyers (selected by bar members from that district), three non-lawyer members (appointed by the governor), and the chief justice of the supreme court who serves as chair.

When a vacancy occurs, the commission compiles a list of three names. The governor must then make his appointment from this list. Initially, justices serve for at least two years, after which they stand for retention during a regularly scheduled general election. If they are retained, justices serve terms that last ten years.

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In November, Californians will decide whether app-based drivers should be classified as independent contractors

At the election on November 3, 2020, Californians will decide a ballot initiative that addresses whether app-based drivers should be classified as independent contractors.

In September 2019, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed AB 5, which established criteria to determine whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. Uber, Lyft, and Doordash proposed a ballot initiative that would exempt app-based workers from AB 5. The ballot initiative would also adopt labor and wage policies specific to app-based companies, including a net earnings floor, healthcare subsidies, and occupational accident insurance for workers. Examples of companies that hire app-based drivers include Uber Technologies, Lyft, DoorDash, Instacart, and Postmates. The ballot measure would not affect how AB 5 is applied to other types of workers.

AB 5 established a three-factor test to decide a worker’s status as an independent contractor. The three-factor test requires that (a) the worker is free from the hiring company’s control and direction in the performance of work; (b) the worker is doing work that is outside the company’s usual course of business; and (c) the worker is engaged in an established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed.

Tony West, the chief legal officer for Uber, and John Zimmer, president of Lyft, have both said that their companies continue to operate without reclassifying their workers as employees. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D), along with Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer, San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott, and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera, sued the rideshare companies on May 5, 2020, arguing their workers needed to be reclassified as employees. Uber and Postmates launched their own legal complaint, contending that AB 5 violated their constitutional rights and their workers’ constitutional rights. Courts have not yet decided either case.

Through May 17, 2020, the campaign Protect App-Based Drivers And Services, which is supporting the ballot initiative, raised $110.69 million, including $30.47 million from Lyft, Inc., $30.23 million from Uber Technologies, Inc., and $30 million from DoorDash, Inc. Instacart and Postmates, Inc. also contributed $10 million each.

The California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO, organized the Coalition to Protect Riders and Drivers to campaign against the ballot initiative. The campaign raised $690,000, with the Transport Workers Union of America providing $500,000.

Protect App-Based Drivers And Services filed 987,813 signatures. At least 623,212 (63.09 percent) of the signatures needed to be valid. On May 22, 2020, the office of Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced that a random sample of signatures projected that 77.50 percent were valid, which amounts to a projected 765,555 valid signatures.

The ballot initiative is the sixth citizen-initiated measure to qualify for the November ballot in California. Four citizen-initiated measures are pending signature verification. At least two additional campaigns have decided against filing signatures due to the coronavirus pandemic and will instead file signatures this summer to appear on the 2022 ballot. The California State Legislature can also place measures on the ballot through June 25, 2020.

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