TagState courts

Candidate filing periods end in Michigan and Florida

Major party filing deadlines passed to run for elected office in Michigan on April 21 and Florida on April 24.

In Michigan, candidates filed for the following state offices:
  • Michigan House of Representatives (110 seats)
  • Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in Wayne County

Michigan’s filing deadline was extended from April 21 to May 8, 2020, for candidates to offices that require nominating petitions to access the ballot. These include non-incumbent judicial candidates and independent state executive candidates, among others. Offices that offer candidates the option to pay filing fees to access the ballot did not have their filing period extended.

In Florida, candidates filed for the following state offices:
  • Supreme Court (1 seat)
  • Intermediate Appellate Court (23 seats)
  • Ballotpedia is also covering local elections in the following areas: Jacksonville, Hillsborough County, Miami-Dade County, Orange County, and Pinellas County

The primary in Michigan is scheduled for August 4, and the primary in Florida is scheduled for August 18. The general election in both states is scheduled for November 3, 2020.

Michigan and Florida’s statewide filing deadlines were the 35th and 36th to take place in the 2020 election cycle. The next statewide filing deadline is on May 5 in Massachusetts.

Michigan has a divided government, meaning no political party holds a state government trifecta. Florida has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Ohio primary election preview

Ohio will hold a statewide primary on April 28. The primary was originally scheduled to be held on March 17, but polls were closed by the order of the state health director due to the coronavirus pandemic. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R) signed HB 197 into law on March 27, extending absentee voting in the state’s primary to April 27, and setting the final date for in-person voting—restricted to individuals with disabilities and those without home mailing addresses—as April 28.

Ballotpedia is covering elections for the following state offices:
  • U.S. House (16 seats)
  • State Senate (16 seats)
  • State House (99 seats)
  • Supreme court (2 seats)
  • Court of appeals (21 seats)
Ballotpedia is also covering elections for the following municipalities:
  • Cuyahoga County
  • Fairfield County
  • Franklin County
  • Hamilton County
  • Lucas County

Ohio has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers.

Arkansas Supreme Court limits judicial deference to state agencies

An April 9 Arkansas Supreme Court ruling limited how much deference agency interpretations of law would receive in the future. The court ruled in Meyers v. Yamato Kogyo Co. that the court should determine the meaning of state laws for itself and should not defer to state agency interpretations.

Justice Shawn Womack delivered the opinion of the court and cited “the risk of giving core judicial powers to executive agencies in violation of the constitutional separation of powers” if they did not clarify how courts were supposed to review agency decisions.

Womack wrote that the power and responsibility to interpret laws lies with the judicial branch while the executive branch enforces laws made and interpreted by the legislature and courts. He went on to say that by “giving deference to agencies’ interpretations of statutes, the court effectively transfers the job of interpreting the law from the judiciary to the executive. This we cannot do.”

Womack added that the court would review all future agency interpretations of statutes on a _de novo_ basis, which means without relying on the agencies’ conclusions. He wrote that the court would interpret unambiguous laws based on the clear meaning of their texts. In cases where the law in question is ambiguous, he wrote that agency interpretations of ambiguity would only be one of many tools the court would use to determine the meaning of the law.

Special Justice Scott Hilburn joined the opinion written by Justice Womack. Justice Karen R. Baker concurred with the decision but did not write a separate opinion. Chief Justice Dan Kemp did not participate in the case. Justice Josephine Hart wrote a dissenting opinion focusing on the facts of the case and not judicial deference in general.

Click here to learn more about judicial deference.

Click here to learn how other states have responded to judicial deference.

Additional reading:
Journey: Judicial review
Shawn Womack
Arkansas Supreme Court
The Administrative State Project

Click here to read the Arkansas Supreme Court decision.

Two Nebraska Supreme Court justices face retention elections in November

Two Nebraska Supreme Court justices, Lindsey Miller-Lerman and Jeffrey Funke will face retention elections on November 3, 2020. Justice Funke was appointed in 2016 by Governor Pete Ricketts (R), while justice Miller-Lerman was appointed in 1998 by Governor Ben Nelson (D).

As of September 2019, six Justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor, and one judge was appointed by a Democratic governor.

• William Cassel: Appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) in 2012.
• John Freudenberg: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2018.
• Jeffrey Funke: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2016.
• Michael Heavican: Appointed by Gov. Dave Heineman (R) in 2006.
• Lindsey Miller-Lerman: Appointed by Gov. Ben Nelson (D) in 1998.
• Jonathan Papik: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2018.
• Stephanie Stacy: Appointed by Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) in 2015.

Justices are appointed by the governor through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Nebraska State Bar Association has majority control. The Nebraska Judicial Nominating Commission is made up of four lawyers selected by the Nebraska State Bar Association and four non-lawyers selected by the governor. The commission is chaired by a Nebraska Supreme Court justice who cannot vote.

When vacancies occur, the commission interviews candidates to fill the empty seat on the court. The commission chooses at least two candidates to submit to the governor, who has 60 days to make an appointment. If the governor does not appoint someone in time, the chief justice is responsible for choosing one of the commission’s nominees.

Justices seeking to keep their seats must run in retention elections in the first general election occurring more than three years after their initial appointment by the governor. Justices are then subject to retention every six years. There is no mandatory retirement age for supreme court justices in Nebraska.

Additional Reading:
Nebraska Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Nebraska
Jeffrey Funke
Lindsey Miller Lerman

Supreme Court of Georgia holds oral argument via video conferencing

On April 20, 2020, The Supreme Court of Georgia held oral arguments via video conferencing. It is the first time in the court’s 175 year history that arguments were held virtually.

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

Other recent updates include:
  • Colorado – The Colorado Supreme Court extended its suspension of jury trials through June
  • Hawaii – The Hawaii Supreme Court issued an order extending its suspension of jury trials through May 29 or the expiration of the state of emergency. The order also authorizes local chief judges to resume jury trials earlier.

Judge Segal appointed chief judge of Minnesota Court of Appeals

Gov. Tim Walz (D) appointed judge Susan Segal as chief judge of the Minnesota Court of Appeals on April 13. Segal will serve the remainder of Edward J. Cleary’s term as chief of the court, which ends on October 31, 2022. Cleary announced his retirement effective April 30 in the fall of 2019.

Segal becomes the second woman to serve as chief judge in the 36 years since the advent of the court. Walz first appointed her to the appellate court in November 2019 following the retirement of Jill Flaskamp Hallbrooks. Segal previously worked as an attorney at several firms and served as the Minneapolis City Attorney for twelve years.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals, created in 1983, is the intermediate appellate court in Minnesota and was designed to relieve the volume of cases that go to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals’ decisions are the final ruling in about 95 percent of the 2,000 to 2,400 appeals filed every year. Typically, approximately 5 percent of the court’s decisions are accepted by the Minnesota Supreme Court for further review.

The judges on the court are nonpartisan, but party-affiliated governors select the members of the bench. Of the nineteen judges currently serving on the court, 12 were appointed by Democratic governors and seven were appointed by Republican governors.

Additional reading:

Illinois Supreme Court rules fantasy sports a game of skill, not chance

In April 2016, Illinois residents Colin Dew-Becker and Andrew Wu competed in a fantasy sports contest hosted by the website FanDuel. They each paid a total of $109: a $100 wager and a $9 fee to the company. Wu defeated Dew-Becker, and three days later Dew-Becker invoked an 1819 law called The Loss Recovery Act in order to recover his bet.

The Loss Recovery Act provides an avenue for the losing party of an illegal wager to recover the funds lost. Dew-Becker’s invocation of the Loss Recovery Act presupposes that FanDuel fantasy sports contests are gambling venues and therefore illegal. The Illinois Supreme Court took up the case to determine the legality of fantasy sports websites as online gambling venues.

On April 16, 2020, the state supreme court ruled that fantasy sports is a “game of skill” as opposed to a “game of chance” and therefore venues like FanDuel do not fall under the umbrella of illegal online gambling venues, nor do wagers placed on fantasy sports match-ups qualify as online gambling. Chief Justice Anne Burke wrote the majority opinion. Justice Lloyd Karmeier was the lone dissenter.

In the majority opinion, Justice Burke wrote “Because the outcomes of head-to-head DFS contests are predominately skill-based, we conclude that (Dew-Becker) was not engaged in ‘gambling’ with (Wu) as required… We determine here only that the DFS contest at issue in this case does not fall under the current legal definition of gambling.”

In his dissent, Justice Karmeier wrote, “Throughout the history of antigambling laws, courts have recognized the effort and ingenuity man has exerted to circumvent the law by disguising activities as legal or contests of skill although the intended appeal is to chance… The ingenuity exerted in head-to-head DFS contests duped the majority into believing it is a game of skill when truly it is a game of chance.”

Although the court upheld the legality of fantasy sports betting hosted by companies such as FanDuel, the five majority justices provided that state lawmakers are able to alter current regulations to manage daily fantasy sports contests.

Additional reading:

Chief justice of Maine Supreme Court resigns

Chief justice Leigh Ingalls Saufley of the Maine State Supreme Court resigned April 14. She stepped down to take a new position as the dean of the University of Maine School of Law, her alma mater.

Saufley first joined the court in 1997, following her appointment by independent then-governor Angus King. In 2001, Saufley became the first woman and the youngest member of the court to be appointed chief justice, and was reappointed in 2009 and 2016. Andrew Mead, who first joined the court in 2007, is serving as acting chief of the court following Saufley’s resignation.

Justices on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Maine State Senate. In 2020, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected, all due to retirements.

Democratic governors are responsible for filling seven of the 11 vacancies, while Republican governors are responsible for filling the remaining four. At the time of Saufley’s retirement, six of the 11 vacancies have been filled, four by Democratic governors (two in Washington) and two by Republican governors.

Additional reading:
Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Leigh Ingalls Saufley
Andrew Mead

Iowa Governor appoints fourth supreme court justice

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds (R) appointed attorney Matthew McDermott to the Iowa Supreme Court on April 3, 2020. McDermott succeeded Acting Chief Justice David Wiggins, who retired on March 13, 2020. McDermott was the governor’s fourth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.

At the time of his appointment to the state supreme court, McDermott practiced law with Belin McCormick, P.C. in Des Moines, Iowa. He was also serving as president of the board of directors of Iowa Legal Aid. McDermott received his undergraduate degree, with distinction and honors, from the University of Iowa in 2000. He obtained his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 2003. During his legal studies, McDermott was the executive editor of the California Law Review.

Under Iowa law, the governor appoints supreme court justices with help from a nominating commission. Within 60 days of receiving notice of the vacancy from the secretary of state, a commission submits the names of three nominees to the governor, who appoints one nominee to the court.

The Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission is composed of 17 members: one chairperson (the senior associate justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, other than the chief justice), eight lawyers selected by licensed Iowa lawyers, and eight non-lawyers appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Iowa State Senate.

Newly appointed judges serve for one year. They must compete in a yes-no retention election (occurring during the regularly scheduled general election) if they wish to continue serving.

Founded in 1846, the Iowa Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. As of McDermott’s appointment, the other six members of the court were:
• Brent Appel – appointed by Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) in 2006
• Thomas Waterman – appointed by Gov. Terry Branstad (R) in 2011
• Edward Mansfield – appointed by Gov. Branstad in 2011
• Susan Christensen – appointed by Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) 2018
• Christopher McDonald – appointed by Gov. Reynolds in 2019
• Dana Oxley – appointed by Gov. Reynolds in 2020

In 2020, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were all caused by retirements.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Matthew McDermott (Iowa)
Iowa Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Iowa

Washington Gov. Inslee selects third appointment to state supreme court

Washington Governor Jay Inslee (D) appointed Judge G. Helen Whitener to the Washington Supreme Court on April 13, 2020. Whitener succeeded Justice Charles Wiggins, who retired in March. Whitener is Gov. Inslee’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.

Whitener has been a judge on the Pierce County Superior Court in Washington since 2015. From 2013 to 2015, she was a judge on the Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. She was an attorney in private practice from 2005 to 2013.

Whitener earned her bachelor’s degree from Baruch College in New York and her J.D. from Seattle University School of Law. She is from Trinidad and moved to the United States as a teenager to attend college.

In the event of a midterm vacancy on the Washington Supreme Court, the governor appoints a replacement. The appointee serves until the next general election, at which point he or she may run to serve for the remainder of the predecessor’s term. Wiggins’ seat will appear on the ballot in a nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Candidates will run to finish the last two years of his term, set to expire on January 8, 2023.

The nine justices of the supreme court compete in contested elections without reference to party affiliation and must run for re-election when their terms expire. Supreme court justices serve for six years.

Founded in 1889, the Washington Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. As of Whitener’s appointment, the other eight members of the court were:
• Steven Gonzalez – Appointed by Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) in 2011
• Charles W. Johnson – First elected in 1990
• Barbara Madsen – First elected in 1992
• Sheryl McCloud – First elected in 2012
• Raquel Montoya-Lewis – Appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee (D) in 2019
• Susan Owens – First elected in 2000
• Debra Stephens – Appointed by Gov. Gregoire in 2007
• Mary Yu – Appointed by Gov. Inslee in 2014

In 2020, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies across eight of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were all caused by retirements.

Additional reading:
State supreme court vacancies, 2020
G. Helen Whitener
Washington State Supreme Court
Washington Supreme Court elections, 2020
Judicial selection in Washington