TagState courts

Justice Paul Thissen will run for a full term on the Minnesota Supreme Court

On May 19, 2020, Justice Paul Thissen announced that he had filed to run in the 2020 election for the Minnesota Supreme Court.

“I am excited to launch my campaign, even in these trying circumstances… My first years as a justice have confirmed how deeply our courts touch the lives of Minnesotans in the most fundamental ways,” Thissen said.

Thissen filed for the ballot by mail due to changes that the state made to its election procedures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The filing period is open until 5 p.m. on June 2.

Judges of the Minnesota Supreme Court are chosen in nonpartisan elections to six-year terms. Interim vacancies are filled via gubernatorial appointment. Appointed judges serve until the next general election occurring more than one year after their appointment. They may then stand for election to a full term, and other candidates may file to run against them. Each current member of the state supreme court was initially appointed rather than elected.

Thissen was first appointed to the court in 2018 by Gov. Mark Dayton (D). He was appointed to fill the vacancy of Justice David Stras, who was appointed by President Donald Trump (R) to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Thissen was Gov. Dayton’s fifth appointment to the state supreme court.

The primary election for Justice Thissen’s seat on the state supreme court will take place on August 11, 2020. The general election for the seat will take place on November 3, 2020.

Before becoming a state supreme court justice, Thissen was a registered member of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (DFL) Party and served in the state legislature for eight terms.

He served as Speaker of the House and Minority Leader. He ran for governor in 2010 but suspended his campaign when he was considered as an applicant to fill the vacancy on the state supreme court.

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Four Mississippi Supreme Court seats up for election in November

Four Mississippi Supreme Court justices are facing non-partisan elections on November 3, 2020. Incumbent Justice T. Kenneth Griffis is opposed by Mississippi Court of Appeals Justice Latrice Westbrooks. Incumbent Justice Josiah Coleman is opposed by Third Chancery District Justice Percy L. Lynchard. Leslie King and Mike Randolph are both running unopposed.

Currently, five judges on the court were appointed by a Republican governor and four judges were initially selected in a nonpartisan election.

The nine justices on the Mississippi Supreme Court are each elected to eight-year terms in nonpartisan general elections. There are no primary elections for judicial candidates in Mississippi. Justices must face re-election if they wish to serve again.

The governor names a temporary judge whenever a midterm vacancy occurs on the court. If four or fewer years of the term remain, the appointed justice serves out the remainder of the term. If more than four years are remaining, the appointee will run in the next general election, taking place nine months or more after the vacancy occurs, and then serve the remainder of the term.

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Texas Supreme Court rules that a voter’s lack of immunity does not qualify as a disability for absentee voting purposes

On May 27, 2020, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19 does not qualify as a disability under the state’s election laws and, therefore, cannot be cited as an excuse for voting absentee. The court ruled unanimously on the matter.

Chief Justice Nathan Hecht wrote the following in the court’s opinion: “We agree with the State that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code. But the State acknowledges that election officials have no responsibility to question or investigate a ballot application that is valid on its face. The decision to apply to vote by mail based on a disability is the voter’s, subject to a correct understanding of the statutory definition of ‘disability.'”

This ruling overturned two lower state court rulings to the contrary. On May 19, a federal district court judge ordered that all voters be allowed to cast absentee ballots, but the U.S. Court of the Appeals for the Fifth Circuit stayed that order later that same day.



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.

Alaska
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.
Kansas
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.

Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, prospective candidates may file for the following state offices:
  • State Senate (16 seats)
  • State House (99 seats)
Hawaii
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.

Minnesota
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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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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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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Voters decide Oregon’s state executive, legislative, judicial, and municipal primaries

The statewide primary for Oregon was held on May 19, 2020. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for November 3, 2020. Due to Oregon’s vote-by-mail system, vote totals are continuing to be reported. Candidates ran in elections for the following offices:

Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Attorney General
• Secretary of State: Incumbent Bev Clarno (R) did not file for re-election. Kim Thatcher (R) advanced from the Republican primary to the general election. The Democratic primary remained too close to call based on the unofficial results as of May 21. The candidates on the ballot included Shemia Fagan, Mark Hass, and Jamie McLeod-Skinner.
• Treasurer: Incumbent Tobias Read (D) and Jeff Gudman (R) advanced from the primary to the general election.
• Attorney General: Incumbent Ellen Rosenblum (D) and Michael Cross (R) advanced from the primary to the general election.

Sixteen seats in the Oregon State Senate
• Each incumbent who filed for re-election advanced from the primary to the general election. In Districts 18, 21, 22, and 23 no Republican candidates filed in the primary. All Democratic primaries saw at least one candidate file and advance to the general election.

All 60 seats in the Oregon House of Representatives
• Each incumbent who filed for re-election advanced from the primary to the general election. In Districts 34, 42, 43, 45, 46, and 48 no Republican candidates filed in the primary election. All Democratic primaries saw at least one candidate file and advance to the general election.

Three Oregon Supreme Court justices
• Position 1: Incumbent Thomas Balmer won re-election outright in the nonpartisan primary after winning 71.5% of the vote. He defeated Van Pounds.
• Position 4: Incumbent Chris Garrett was the only candidate to file in the primary. The election was canceled, and Garrett automatically advanced to the general election.
• Position 7: Incumbent Martha L. Walters was the only candidate to file in the primary. The election was canceled, and Walters automatically advanced to the general election.

Four Oregon Court of Appeals justices
• Position 1: Incumbent Josephine H. Mooney was the only candidate to file in the nonpartisan primary. The election was canceled, and Mooney automatically advanced to the general election.
• Position 9 (special election): Incumbent Jacqueline Kamins was the only candidate to file in the primary. The election was canceled, and Kamins automatically advanced to the general election.
• Position 11: This race remained too close to call based on the unofficial results as of May 21. The primary race included incumbent Joel S. DeVore and Kyle Krohn.
• Position 12: Incumbent Erin C. Lagesen was the only candidate to file in the primary. The election was canceled, and Lagesen automatically advanced to the general election.
• Position 13: Incumbent Douglas L. Tookey was the only candidate to file in the primary. The election was canceled, and Tookey automatically advanced to the general election.

Ballotpedia also covered local elections in the following areas:
• Portland: The primary for mayor could not be called based on the unofficial results as of May 21.
• Multnomah County: The primary for Multnomah County Commission Districts 1, 3, and 4 could not be called based on the unofficial results as of May 21.

Oregon exclusively uses a vote-by-mail system. Voters may return their ballots to the office of the county clerk by mail or in person. Because of this system, there is no need for explicit absentee or early voting procedures.

Oregon’s primary was the 10th statewide primary to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide primaries will be held on June 2 in the following states:
• Idaho
• Indiana
• Iowa
• Maryland
• Montana
• New Mexico
• Pennsylvania
• South Dakota

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Balmer wins re-election to the Oregon Supreme Court

Thomas Balmer won re-election to the Oregon Supreme Court, Position 1, on May 19. He defeated challenger Van Pounds. According to unofficial results, Balmer received 71.5% of the vote to Pounds’ 28.1%. In Oregon, candidates in nonpartisan primaries can win an election outright if they receive over 50% of the vote in the primary.

Balmer, the court’s most senior member, was appointed in 2001 by Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). He was re-elected in 2002, 2008, and 2014, running unopposed in each race. Balmer served as chief justice from 2012 to 2018. He was endorsed by The Oregonian, the Bend Bulletin, and the Eugene Weekly editorial boards in the primary.

Pounds worked as a policy analyst and chief of enforcement and securities at the Oregon Department of Business and Consumer Services. He previously worked as an attorney with the Missouri Department of Revenue. Pounds was recommended by the Oregon Right to Life PAC and endorsed by the Taxpayer Association of Oregon in the primary.

Two other incumbents justices, Chris Garrett and Martha Walters, were also up for re-election. Both ran unopposed in their primaries.

The Oregon Constitution establishes nonpartisan elections as the mode of selection for state court justices. In the event of a vacancy, justices are appointed by the governor. All seven justices currently serving on the Oregon Supreme Court were appointed by Democratic governors.

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