TagState courts

Illinois Supreme Court Justice to retire on Leap Day

Illinois Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Thomas is retiring on February 29, 2020. Thomas announced plans to join law firm Powers Rogers following his retirement.

Justice Thomas joined the Second District of the Illinois Supreme Court after winning election in November 2000. Thomas served as the Chief Justice of the court from 2005 to 2008. He previously served as a judge of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit Court in Illinois from 1988 to 1994, and as a Justice of the Illinois Appellate Court from 1994 to 2000.

Thomas earned a B.A. in government from the University of Notre Dame in 1974. In 1981, he earned a J.D. from Loyola University School of Law. Prior to beginning his legal career, Thomas was a kicker for the Chicago Bears in the National Football League.

Under Illinois law, the Illinois Supreme Court is responsible for appointing an interim judge in the event of a midterm vacancy. The interim judge serves until the next primary election occurring at least 60 days after his or her appointment, at which point the judge must run in a partisan election to remain on the court. Illinois Supreme Court Justices are selected by popular vote in partisan elections and serve 10-year terms, after which they must compete in nonpartisan retention elections to remain on the court.

Because the vacancy from Thomas’ retirement is set to occur less than 60 days before the state’s next primary on March 3, his replacement was selected by the Illinois Supreme Court in a vote of the justices. The court appointed appellate Justice Michael J. Burke to serve from March 1, 2020, to December 5, 2022.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Illinois are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided among five districts (three allocated to Cook County and the others divided evenly among the other four districts across the state) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions. Three other states—Kentucky, Louisiana, and Mississippi—use a similar system.

The Illinois Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:
• Mary Jane Theis — Elected in 2010
• Anne M. Burke — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2006; elected Chief Justice by her peers in 2019
• P. Scott Neville — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2018
• Thomas Kilbride — Elected in 2000
• Rita Garman — Appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court in 2001
• Lloyd Karmeier — Elected in 2004

The Illinois Supreme Court will see another retirement in 2020. Justice Lloyd Karmeier is retiring from the court on December 6, 2020. His seat will be filled via partisan election.

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

Click here to learn more about the Illinois Supreme Court justice vacancy.

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State supreme court vacancies, 2020
Illinois Supreme Court
Judicial selection in Illinois

Florida Supreme Court declines to hear Coral Gables preemption case

On February 12, the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from the City of Coral Gables of a ruling by the Third District Court of Appeal that upheld the state’s preemption of local bans on plastic packaging. Preemption occurs when law at a higher level of government is used to overrule authority at a lower level of government.

The city of Coral Gables banned the retail use of expanded polystyrene (plastic foam) in February 2016. In July 2016, the Florida Retail Federation (FRF) filed a lawsuit against the city, and Judge Jorge Cueto of the Eleventh Circuit Court upheld the city’s polystyrene ban in February 2017.

On August 14, 2019, the Third District Court of Appeal reversed the ruling, stating, “Because the trial court erred in finding [Florida Statutes sections 403.708(9), 403.7033, and 500.90] unconstitutional and concluding that the City’s Polystyrene Ordinance was not preempted, we reverse.” After the Third District Court denied the city’s motion to certify the question to the Florida Supreme Court, Coral Gables invoked the supreme court’s discretionary jurisdiction.

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Wisconsin Governor appoints White to Court of Appeals


On January 16, 2020, Judge Maxine White was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, District 1, by Governor Tony Evers (D) to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of former judge Joan Kessler. White took her seat on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals on February 7, 2020. She will serve the remainder of Evers term, which ends on July 31, 2021.

Before White was appointed to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, she served as the chief judge of Wisconsin’s First Judicial District and as presiding judge of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court’s Family Division. Before becoming a judge, White served as a legal advisor for the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Georgia, an assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, and as a manager for the Social Security Administration.

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals is the state’s intermediate appellate court. The court is composed of 16 judges from four districts. Selection of state court judges in Wisconsin occurs through nonpartisan elections. In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement.

Three Wisconsin Court of Appeals justices’ seats are up for election in 2020. A nonpartisan election is scheduled for April 7, 2020.

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Feb. 18 primary to narrow Wisconsin Supreme Court candidate field

A nonpartisan primary will take place on Feb. 18 to narrow the candidate field in the 2020 election of a justice to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Incumbent Daniel Kelly, Ed Fallone, and Jill Karofsky are running in the primary. Kelly is a member of the court’s 5-2 conservative majority. Fallone and Karofsky have each pledged to join the court’s liberal minority. Although the race is officially nonpartisan, Kelly has received support from Republican-affiliated groups and Fallone and Karofsky from Democratic-affiliated groups.

Kelly was appointed to the court in 2016 by then-Gov. Scott Walker (R) to fill a vacancy opened by the retirement of David Prosser. He says that he has the broadest range of legal experience, including as a prosecutor, defense attorney, and litigator.

Fallone is a law professor at Marquette University who ran for state supreme court in 2013. He says that he will bring new perspectives to the bench from his time as a law professor and his work with the Hispanic community and low-income clients.

Karofsky is a judge on the Dane County Circuit Court who was elected in 2017. She says she has the most firsthand experience applying the law and seeing how supreme court decisions impact residents.

All three candidates say they are running to oppose politicization of the court.

The top two finishers in the primary will advance to a general election on April 7. The winner of the general election will begin a 10-year term. A win for either Fallone or Karofsky would reduce the size of the conservative majority on the court to 4-3, meaning control of the court would be at stake during the next election in 2023. A win for Kelly would preserve the current 5-2 balance, meaning that control of the court will not be at stake until the 2026 election assuming no justices leave the bench early.

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court elections have been decided by narrow margins. In the 2019 election, conservative Brian Hagedorn defeated liberal Lisa Neubauer by a margin of 50.2% to 49.7%. Setting aside the 2017 election (in which the incumbent was unopposed), the widest margin of victory for a Wisconsin Supreme Court election in the past decade was Ann Walsh Bradley’s 58.1% to 41.9% win in 2015.

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State supreme court incumbents experienced a 93% win rate from 2008-2019

Incumbents tend to do better in elections for any office than newcomers facing incumbents. This is no less true in state supreme court elections. Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. No more than six incumbent justices have lost in a single year during this time frame. 2008 was the year with the lowest incumbent win rate at 89%.

Among the 38 states that conduct elections for supreme court justices, 11 have seen incumbents lose elections from 2008-2019. These were Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the other 27 states, incumbent supreme court justices won re-election 100% of the time from 2008-2019.

Thirty-five states are holding state supreme court elections in 2020. In total, 84 of the nation’s 344 state supreme court seats are up for election.

Of these seats, at the start of 2020:

  • 60 are held by non-partisan justices
  • 17 are held by Republican justices
  • Seven are held by Democratic justices

Twenty-nine states are holding their judicial elections on November 3, 2020. Five states are holding their judicial elections before that date, and one state is holding its judicial elections in December.

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Reynolds appoints third justice to the Iowa State Supreme Court

On January 28, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) made her third appointment to the Iowa State Supreme Court when she chose Dana Oxley to fill the vacancy left by Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Reynold’s described Justice Oxley saying, “She’s smart, she’s articulate, she’s hard-working, she brings a breadth of experience to the court.” This will be the first time in the state’s history that two women have shared the bench. Governor Reynolds stated that “We need more women in the courts, yes but I don’t make my decision based on gender. They earned those selections.”

As a result of Oxley’s appointment, five of the seven justices on the court have been appointed by Republican governors. Reynolds previously appointed Susan Christensen and Christopher McDonald. Those two appointments initially moved the court’s balance towards justices appointed by Republican governors. Chief Justice David Wiggins will retire in March 2020. If Reynolds appoints his replacement, six of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court will have been appointed by Republican governors, four of them by Reynolds.

Iowa uses the assisted appointment method to select justices, meaning that the governor must select an appointment from a list of three nominees recommended by the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission.

In Justice Oxley’s application for nomination, she wrote that during her clerkship with U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Hansen she learned “the art of judicial restraint.” She explained that, “while legal issues may have lurked on the edges of a case that were more interesting than the ones that were brought in the parties’ briefs, our adversarial system works best when lawyers are allowed to bring the issues that are most important to their clients to the courts.” In her application she also claimed that the court should “not blindly apply its prior decisions but must be vigilant in protecting the rule of law.”

Click here to learn more about judicial selection in Iowa.
Click here to learn more about the Iowa Supreme Court.
Click here to learn more about assisted appointments.

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Indeglia to retire, governor to appoint first nominee to court

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia is retiring on June 30, 2020. Indeglia joined the court in April 2010 after being nominated by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R). Before that, Indeglia was a judge on the Rhode Island Superior Court from 2000 to 2010 and on the Rhode Island District Court from 1989 to 2000. From 1985 to 1991, Indeglia was a Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He received his B.A. from Boston College in 1963 and his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1966.

State court judges in Rhode Island are chosen using the assisted appointment method. Rhode Island Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor with help from the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Supreme court nominees must be approved by both the state House and the state Senate. Indeglia’s replacement will be Governor Gina Raimondo’s (D) first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

The Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Commission has nine members, four of whom must be attorneys. Five commissioners are selected by the governor with input from the speaker of the House, the state Senate president, and the minority leaders of the state legislature. The remaining four are selected solely by the governor.

Rhode Island is one of only three states where judges serve lifetime terms, and, of those states, it is the only one without a mandatory retirement age.

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

  • Francis Flaherty – Appointed by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2003
  • Maureen McKenna Goldberg – Appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) in 1997
  • Gilbert Indeglia – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2010
  • William Robinson – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2004
  • Paul Suttell – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2003

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

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Lawsuit filed in recall effort in Leon Valley, Texas

Five Leon Valley residents have filed a lawsuit to place a recall election on the May 2 ballot. Councilmembers Donna Charles and Monica Alcocer were targeted for recall after a 2-1 vote in August 2019 to remove Councilmember Benny Martinez. Charles and Alcocer voted in favor of removing Martinez due to allegations of sexual harassment as well as undermining Leon Valley’s legal department, community development department, police department, and the city manager. Martinez responded to the allegations by saying, “There is no validity to any of them. I deny all charges against me. This is a witch hunt to get me off the City Council.”

Petitioners were required to submit 500 valid signatures for each official to put the recalls on the ballot. More than 1,600 signatures were submitted for verification against Charles and Alcocer in November 2019. Scheduling for the recall election was on the city council’s agenda on January 21, but the matter wasn’t taken up during that meeting. A lawsuit to put the recall on the ballot was filed with the Fourth Court of Appeals on January 24.

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Bowman replaces Schindler on the Washington Court of Appeals

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) appointed Bill Bowman to the Washington Court of Appeals on January 24, 2020. Bowman fills the vacancy left by former judge Ann Schindler, who retired effective December 31, 2019.

Bowman previously served as a judge for the King County Superior Court. He held several roles as a superior court judge, including those of assistant chief criminal judge, chief judge of the Maleng Regional Justice Center, and assistant presiding judge, the last of which he held at the time of his appellate appointment.

In addition to his judicial career, Bowman has worked as a trial attorney and was also deputy prosecuting attorney for King County. He earned his J.D. from the California Western School of Law.

Bowman is one of ten Division I judges on the Washington Court of Appeals. Unlike the Washington Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals is a non-discretionary appellate court, meaning it must review and rule on all appeals filed with it.

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Governor Newsom appoints Jackson to California Court of Appeal

On January 21, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) appointee to the California First District Court of Appeal—Justice Terri L. Jackson—was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Justice Jackson is now the first female, African-American justice to sit on the California First District Court of Appeal.

Before her appointment, Jackson served as a judge on the Superior Court of San Francisco from 2002 to 2020. She was also the first African-American woman appointed to the Superior Court of San Francisco. Before serving as a judge, Jackson worked as an attorney and served in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.

California’s First District Court of Appeal is one of six courts of appeal in California. The First District Court serves the residents of 12 Northern California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma. The district reviews more than 2,000 criminal, civil, and juvenile appeals and more than 1,300 original proceedings annually.

Justice Jackson replaced Justice Martin Jenkins, who resigned from the bench to serve as Governor Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary. Jenkins served on the California First District Court of Appeal from 2008-2019.

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