TagState courts

Pennsylvania statewide election passed

The statewide primary for Pennsylvania was held on May 18. Candidates competed to advance to the general election scheduled for Nov. 2. Four state legislative special general elections were also on the ballot.

Candidates ran in elections for the following offices: 

  • Four state legislative special elections
    • State Senate Districts 22 and 48 and state House Districts 59 and 60. One Democratic candidate won election in Senate District 22. The other three seats were won by Republican candidates. No seats were flipped.
  • Pennsylvania Supreme Court (one seat)
    • Democrat Maria McLaughlin was unopposed and advanced to the general election. She faces Republican Kevin Brobson, who defeated two challengers in the primary. Justice Thomas Saylor (R) was not able to file for retention due to Pennsylvania’s mandatory retirement age.
  • Pennsylvania Superior Court (one seat)
    • Democrat Timika Lane advanced after defeating two challengers in the primary. Republican Megan Sullivan advanced unopposed.
  • Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court (two seats)
    • Democrat Lori A. Dumas was one of two projected winners in the Democratic primary. Democratic candidates Amanda Green-Hawkins and David Spurgeon were too close to call for the second seat as of May 20. Republicans Andrew Crompton and Stacy Wallace advanced to the general election without opposition.

Ballotpedia also covered local elections in the following areas: 

  • Harrisburg
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • Allegheny County
  • Pittsburgh Public Schools

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Annette Ziegler becomes chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court

Annette Ziegler became chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court on May 1, beginning a two-year term in that role. Ziegler succeeds Patience Roggensack, who had served as chief justice since April 2015.

Ziegler was first elected to the court in 2007. She previously served as a Washington County Circuit Court judge, becoming the first female judge in that county.

Justices on the Wisconsin Supreme Court are officially nonpartisan. Ballotpedia’s State Court Partisanship Study identifies Ziegler as a mild Republican.

Until 2015, the justice with the longest continuous service on the Wisconsin Supreme Court served as the chief justice, unless that justice declined (in which case the role passed to the next senior justice of the court). Voters passed a state constitutional amendment in April of that year that changed the selection method to a vote by current justices. 

Chief justices in Wisconsin and 22 other states are selected by chamber vote. Fourteen (14) states select chief justices by appointment, seven by popular vote, and six by seniority.

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The Florida Supreme Court blocks marijuana legalization initiative from 2022 ballot

On April 22, 2021, the Florida Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that a marijuana legalization initiative backed by Make It Legal Florida could not appear on the 2022 ballot. The court wrote, “A constitutional amendment cannot unequivocally ‘permit’ or authorize conduct that is criminalized under federal law. And a ballot summary suggesting otherwise is affirmatively misleading.” Justices Jorge Labarga and Alan Lawson dissented. Lawson said, “Because the ballot summary in this case complies with the constitutional and statutory requirements by which we are to judge ballot summaries, I would apply our precedent and approve this measure for placement on the ballot.”

The measure would have added a section to the Florida Constitution that legalized the personal possession, use, and purchase of 2.5 ounces of marijuana and allowed Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers to sell marijuana for personal use to adults 21 years or older.

Make It Legal Florida filed the initiative in September 2019 targeting the 2020 ballot. Proponents submitted 76,632 valid signatures on November 19, 2019, thereby qualifying for a ballot language review by the Florida Supreme Court. On January 13, 2020, Make it Legal Florida announced that it would attempt to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot rather than the 2020 ballot.

To place a constitutional amendment on the ballot, proponents must collect signatures equal to 8% of the total number of votes cast in the last presidential election. In 2020, this number was 766,200, with 76,632 required for a ballot language review. Based on the 2020 elections, the requirements increased to 891,589, with 89,159 required for a ballot language review. Signatures must be verified by February 1, 2022, to qualify for the November 2022 ballot.

Make it Legal Florida had submitted 556,049 valid signatures according to the Division Elections Website as of April 22, 2021.

Fourteen initiative campaigns are actively circulating targeting the 2022 ballot according to the Division of Elections website as of April 22, 2021. No campaigns besides the marijuana legalization initiative had yet collected enough signatures to qualify for a ballot language review.

On April 8, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) signed Senate Bill 1794, which, among other things, required the Florida Supreme Court to review whether a proposed amendment is “facially invalid under the United States Constitution” in addition to existing requirements for reviewing the ballot title and reviewing the initiative for compliance with the state’s single-subject rule. Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), the Florida House and Senate, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce filed briefs with the state supreme court arguing that the marijuana legalization measure is invalid because it violates federal law. The Florida Supreme Court, however, declined to rule on the issue of whether the measure is valid under the US Constitution under SB 1794 because it blocked the measure based on the ballot summary.

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West Virginia enacts law creating intermediate appellate court

Governor Jim Justice (R) signed SB 275 into law on April 9 which provides guidelines for creating the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals, effective June 30, 2021. Previously, West Virginia’s state courts included a state supreme court of appeals and trial courts with both general and limited jurisdiction.

According to Metro News, a 2009 judicial reform panel recommended the creation of an intermediate court. West Virginia is one of nine states without an intermediate appellate court, and the supreme court of appeals serves as the only appellate court.

As outlined in SB 275, the court will consist of three judges elected to 10-year terms. The first three judges will be appointed, with the first judicial election being held in 2024. These elections will be nonpartisan.

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Spring elections held in Wisconsin

The statewide nonpartisan general election for Wisconsin was held on April 6. The primary was held on February 16, and the filing deadline to run passed on January 5. Candidates ran in elections for special elections in the Wisconsin State Legislature, three judgeships on the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, and in municipal and school board elections.

Wisconsin State Legislature

• State Senate District 13: John Jagler (R) defeated four candidates to win the special election, winning 51.2% of the total (37,385) reported votes. The seat became vacant after incumbent officeholder Scott Fitzgerald (R) was elected to the U.S. House to represent Wisconsin’s 5th Congressional District on Nov. 3. Fitzgerald vacated his seat on Jan. 1.

• State Assembly District 89: Elijah Behnke (R) defeated challenger Karl Jaeger (D) to win the special election. Behnke received 60.3% of the total (8,413) votes, while Jaeger received 39.7% of the votes. The seat became vacant on Dec. 2, after John Nygren (R) resigned his seat to work in the private sector.

Wisconsin Court of Appeals

• In District 1, Judge Maxine A. White won re-election unopposed.

• In District 2, Judge Jeffrey Davis was defeated by challenger Shelley Grogan.

• In District 3, newcomer Greg Gill Jr. defeated Rick Cveykus.

Ballotpedia also covered local elections in the following areas:

• Dane County and Milwaukee County

• The cities of Madison and Milwaukee

• DeForest Area School District

• Madison Metropolitan School District

• McFarland School District

• Middleton-Cross Plains School District

• Milwaukee Public Schools

• Sun Prairie Area School District

• Verona Area School District

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Maryland voters will decide whether to rename the Maryland Court of Appeals and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals in 2022

On April 6, the Maryland State Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the November 2022 ballot that would rename the Maryland Court of Appeals to the Supreme Court of Maryland and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals to the Appellate Court of Maryland. It would also change the name of a Judge of the Court of Appeals to a Justice of the Supreme Court of Maryland and the name of the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Maryland. The measure would also amend the gendered language to be gender-neutral in the articles of the Maryland Constitution that would be amended.

In a hearing on the bill, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals Mary Ellen Barbera said, “There is confusion from beyond the borders of our state as lawyers, law students and litigants research, contact and even file papers with the wrong court. That same confusion persists among Marylanders.”

To put a legislatively referred constitutional amendment before voters, a 60% vote is required in both the Maryland State Senate and the Maryland House of Representatives.

This amendment was introduced as House Bill 885 (HB 885) on January 29, 2021, by Delegate Ron Watson (D). It was approved in the state House by a vote of 125-10 on March 21, 2021. On April 6, 2021, the Maryland State Senate approved the amendment by a vote of 40-7.

The Maryland Court of Appeals is the state’s court of last resort and has seven judgeships. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals is the intermediate appellate court in Maryland. Judges are appointed to serve 10-year terms with confirmation from the Maryland State Senate. The seven judges of the Maryland Court of Appeals are appointed by the governor from a list submitted by a judicial nominating commission and are subject to state Senate confirmation. After serving for at least one year, judges must stand in yes-no retention elections to determine whether they will remain on the court. Maryland has a mandatory retirement age for all judges of 70 years.

From 1996 through 2020, 33 of 36 (92%) statewide measures in Maryland were approved, and three of 36 (8%) were defeated.

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Arizona Supreme Court Justice Andrew Gould retires

Andrew Gould retired as an associate justice of the Arizona Supreme Court on April 1. He had announced that he would retire from the court on March 12.

Governor Doug Ducey (R) appointed Gould to the state supreme court on Nov. 28, 2016, after a new bill expanded the court from five justices to seven. Gould won a retention election in 2020, receiving 68.1% of the vote. His current term would have expired in January 2027.

Ducey will appoint a replacement justice to the state supreme court to fill this vacancy. Newly-appointed judges must stand for retention to remain on the court during the next general election after they serve at least two years on the bench.

The Arizona Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. Republican governors appointed all seven judges on the court. Governor Ducey appointed five, and former Gov. Janice Kay Brewer (R) appointed two.

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New York Court of Appeals justice retires, creating midterm vacancy

On March 23, 2021, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Paul Feinman retired from the court, citing health concerns. 

Justice Feinman joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2017. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D). Feinman was the first openly gay judge confirmed to serve on the state’s highest court.

Before serving on the state supreme court, Feinman was a judge with the New York County Supreme Court, Civil Term in the 1st Judicial District from 2008 to 2017. He was also appointed to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department in 2012. From 1996 to 1997 and again in 2001 to 2003, Feinman served as a judge with the New York City Civil Court. From 1997 to 2000, he served as a judge with the New York City Criminal Courts.

The seven justices of the New York Court of Appeals serve 14-year terms. They are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates provided by a judicial nominating commission, pending confirmation from the New York Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Janet DiFiore, who was appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015. 

The other five active justices of the court are:

• Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013

• Eugene Fahey – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015

• Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016

• Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

• Leslie Stein – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2015

Justice Leslie Stein is scheduled to retire from the court on June 4, 2021, and Justice Eugene Fahey has scheduled his retirement for December 31, 2021.

In 2021, there have been 11 supreme court vacancies in nine of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. 

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In four states, no state or federal officials have tested positive for COVID-19

Between the start of the coronavirus pandemic and March 18, 2021, no elected or appointed state or federal officials announced positive COVID-19 test results in four states—Delaware, Maryland, Oregon, and Vermont. In the 46 other states, Ballotpedia has identified at least one COVID-19 positive state or federal official within our coverage scope. State and federal officials include members of Congress, state legislators, and state executive officeholders.

The first COVID-19 positive state officials identified by Ballotpedia were New York state Reps. Helene Weinstein (D) and Charles Barron (D), who announced positive test results on March 14, 2020. The first members of Congress to test positive were Reps. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fl.), who made their announcements March 18.

Since then, Ballotpedia has identified 215 candidates and officials diagnosed with COVID-19 at the state level, and 69 candidates and officials with COVID-19 at the federal level.

The state with the highest number of publicly identified COVID-19 state and federal officials is Pennsylvania, where two U.S. House members, the governor, and 17 members of the state legislature have tested positive since March 2020.

To read more about federal, state, and local officials and candidates affected by COVID-19, click the link below.



Michigan Court of Claims invalidates absentee/mail-in ballot rule as improperly established

On March 9, 2021, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Christopher Murray invalidated an absentee/mail-in ballot rule instituted by Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) in the run-up to the November 3, 2020, general election. Murray held that Benson’s rule, which directed local clerks to presume validity when verifying signatures on absentee/mail-in ballot applications and return envelopes, had been issued in violation of the Administrative Procedures Act (APA).

Benson’s guidance, issued on October 6, 2020, directed local clerks to treat signatures as valid if there are “any redeeming qualities in the application or return envelope signature as compared to the signature on file.” “Redeeming qualities” are described as including, but not being limited to, “similar distinctive flourishes” and “more matching features than non-matching features.” Allegan County Clerk Robert Genetski and the Republican Party of Michigan filed suit against Benson, alleging that her guidance violated the state’s election laws and the Administrative Procedures Act. The plaintiffs asked that the court strike down the guidance as unlawful and enjoin its enforcement in future elections.

Murray sided with the plaintiffs, finding that Benson’s guidance was in fact a rule “that should have been promulgated in accordance with the APA. And absent compliance with the APA, the ‘rule’ is invalid.” Under the Administrative Procedures Act, a state agency is required to follow formal rulemaking procedures (e.g., when establishing policies that “do not merely interpret or explain the statute of rules from which the agency derives its authority,” but rather “establish the substantive standards implementing the program.”)

It is unclear whether the state will appeal Murray’s decision.

Background: Last year, 39 states, including Michigan, modified their administrative and/or statutory election procedures ahead of the general election. These modifications (and, in some cases, the lack thereof) triggered a wave of litigation activity. In the run-up to the general election, there were at least 425 lawsuits, and subsequent appeals, filed, 242 of which dealt primarily with absentee/mail-in voting procedures. Although courts issued orders in most of these cases before November 3, 2020, they did not necessarily make final rulings on the questions of law presented in those cases. Murray’s ruling is an example of a post-2020 court action addressing the ultimate legality of policies implemented in 2020. Although a ruling like this one will not have an effect on the 2020 election, it will bear on the conduct of future elections.

Other recent examples of noteworthy post-2020 court actions include the following:

• Virginia: On January 13, 2021, Judge William Eldridge signed a consent decree between the parties in Reed v. Virginia Department of Elections. One of the conditions of the agreement was that the Virginia Department of Elections rescind an administrative rule, which was in place during the 2020 election cycle, that allowed for absentee/mail-in ballots returned with illegible postmarks to be counted, provided that the ballots were signed on or before Election Day.

• Arizona: Earlier this month, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge John Hannah ordered the Republican Party of Arizona to pay the Office of the Arizona Secretary of State $18,238 in legal fees, finding that the party had acted “in bad faith” in filing a lawsuit last year to postpone certification of the state’s election results. An attorney for the Arizona GOP said the party would appeal Hannah’s order.

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