TagState courts

Idaho Supreme Court justice announces retirement

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick is retiring on June 30, 2021. He was appointed to this position in 2003 by Republican Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and retained by voters in 2004, 2010 and 2016. His current term would have expired in January 2023. Burdick’s replacement will be Republican Governor Brad Little’s first appointment to the supreme court. 

Under Idaho law, the Idaho Judicial Council selects supreme court justices to fill vacancies. When a seat on the court becomes vacant, the commission submits two to four names to the governor to determine the replacement. The justice selected by the governor will complete Justice Burdick’s term which ends in January 2023. A nonpartisan election to elect a justice for the next six-year term will be held in May 2022.

Following Burdick’s retirement, the Idaho Supreme Court will include the following members:

G. Richard Bevan – appointed by Gov. Butch Otter (R) in 2017.

Gregory W. Moeller – appointed by Gov. Butch Otter (R) in 2018.

Robyn Brody – elected in 2016 to an open seat on the court.

John R. Stegner – appointed by Gov. Butch Otter (R) in 2018.

Before Burdick’s retirement, a Republican governor appointed four justices to fill vacancies on the court and one justice was elected. The state of Idaho holds nonpartisan elections for seats on the supreme court. 

In 2020, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled unanimously in 91.5% of the cases they heard. Justices dissented in 12 of the 140 cases heard by the court and ruled unanimously in the other 128.

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SEIU asks California Supreme Court to declare Proposition 22 unconstitutional

The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and four app-based drivers sued the state government in the California Supreme Court on January 12, 2021. The SEIU is seeking to have Proposition 22 declared unconstitutional and unenforceable.

Proposition 22 was approved at the election on November 3, 2020, with 58.6% of the vote. The ballot initiative defined app-based transportation (rideshare) and delivery drivers as independent contractors and not employees or agents. The ballot measure overrode Assembly Bill 5 (AB 5), signed in September 2019, on the question of whether app-based drivers are employees or independent contractors.

In October 2020, the California First District Court of Appeal ruled that Lyft and Uber were misclassifying their drivers as contractors but gave the companies 30 days to implement changes unless Proposition 22 was approved.

DoorDash, InstaCart, Lyft, Postmates, and Uber funded the campaign Yes on Proposition 22, which received $203.0 million in contributions. Opponents of Proposition 22 received $19.7 million, and the top-five donors were labor unions, including the SEIU Local 721, SEIU Local 1021, and SEIU-UHW West. With $225.0 million between supporters and opponents, Proposition 22 was the most expensive ballot measure in California history, surpassing the next closest measure by $70.5 million. 

Following the announcement of litigation against Proposition 22, Bob Schoonover, president of SEIU California, said, “Prop. 22 doesn’t just fail our state rideshare drivers, it fails the basic test of following our state constitution. The law as written by Uber and Lyft denies drivers rights under the law in California and makes it nearly impossible for lawmakers to fix these problems.” Kathy Fairbanks, a spokesperson for Yes on Proposition 22, provided a statement from an app-based driver, which said, “Meritless lawsuits that seek to undermine the clear democratic will of the people do not stand up to scrutiny in the courts.”

Petitioners argued that Proposition 22 violates Section 4 of Article XIV of the California Constitution, which “grants to the Legislature ‘plenary power, unlimited by any provision of this Constitution’ to establish and enforce a complete system of workers’ compensation.” Proposition 22, according to the petitioners, removed app-based drivers from the state’s system of workers’ compensation and therefore limited the legislature’s constitutional power to extend workers’ compensation benefits to app-based drivers. Petitioners also argued that Proposition 22 violated the single-subject rule for initiatives and included a definition of the word ‘amendment’ that is too expansive and “impermissibly usurped this Court’s authority to ‘say what the law is’ by determining what constitutes an ‘amendment'”, and “impermissibly invaded the Legislature’s broad authority to legislate in areas not substantively addressed by the initiative.”

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State supreme court vacancies in 2021

So far in 2021, there have been two new state supreme court vacancies in two of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have both been caused by retirements. 

In Colorado, Chief Justice Nathan Coats retired on January 1, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 72. Colorado Governor Jared Polis (D) appointed Maria Berkenkotter to the Colorado Supreme Court on November 20, 2020. Berkenkotter is Polis’ first nominee to the seven-member supreme court. In South Dakota, Chief Justice David Gilbertson retired in early January, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 years old. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) appointed Scott P. Myren to the South Dakota Supreme Court on October 28, 2020.

Currently, Maine is the only appointment state which had a vacancy in 2020 which has yet to be filled.

Three more states will see vacancies from retirement on their state supreme courts in 2021:

• Joel Bolger, June 30, 2021, Alaska

• Leslie Stein, June 4, 2021, New York

• Eugene Fahey, December 31, 2021, New York

In Alaska, the vacancy will be filled by Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy. Both of the vacancies on the New York Supreme Court will be filled by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo.

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Gov. Sununu (R) to nominate Attorney General Gordon MacDonald to New Hampshire Supreme Court

On January 6, 2021, Gov. Chris Sununu (R) announced that he will renominate Attorney General Gordan MacDonald (R) to the New Hampshire State Supreme Court. 

In New Hampshire, the governor makes nominations to the state supreme court and those nominees are then subject to the approval of the Executive Council. In order for the nominee to become a justice on the court, a majority of the members of the council must vote to approve them. 

Sununu appointed MacDonald to the State Supreme Court in 2019, but the Executive Council rejected MacDonald’s nomination. Councilman Andru Volinksy (D) stated, “Mr. MacDonald has worked for and supported highly partisan politicians with shockingly extreme views.” After MacDonald was rejected, Sununu left the seat vacant throughout 2020. Sununu said, “If someone of Gordon MacDonald’s character and background is going to be dragged through the mud like this, why would I dare do it to anybody else?”

The first time Sununu nominated MacDonald, there were three Democrats and two Republicans on the Executive Council. In November 2020, every seat on the Executive Council was up for election. The balance on the Executive Council is now one Democrat and four Republicans. 

In our Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship study, we analyzed the partisan data on each state supreme court in the country. In our study, we found that two justices on the court have Republican affiliations, one justice on the court has Democratic affiliations, and one justice on the court has an indeterminate party affiliation. If the Executive Council approves MacDonald, a majority of the justices on the court will have Republican party affiliations.

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New Hampshire Executive Council election, 2020

Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship



Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court rules that 2019 Marsy’s Law ballot measure violated state constitution

Judge gavel on desk

On January 7, 2021, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court ruled that a ballot measure for Marsy’s Law, a type of crime victims’ rights amendment, violated the Pennsylvania Constitution. Pennsylvanians voted 74% to 26% in favor of Marsy’s Law at the election on November 5, 2019. Results were never certified, however, according to a court order.

The 3-2 appellate court decision stated that the proposal violated the separate-vote requirement for constitutional amendments. According to the Pennsylvania Constitution, “When two or more amendments shall be submitted they shall be voted upon separately.” Judge Ellen Ceisler (D) wrote the majority’s opinion, which ruled that Marsy’s Law would impact separate rights and provisions of the state constitution.

Judge Patricia McCullough (R), who agreed with the majority’s decision but wrote a separate opinion, stated that the measure contained “laudable and salutary provisions” but “simply embraces too many disparate matters to effectively convey its import to voters within the 75 words mandated by statute.”

Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt (R) dissented, stating that Marsy’s Law created constitutional rights for crime victims without changing existing provisions of the state constitution. Judge Leavitt wrote, “The judgment the court enters today deprives the people of this power on the strength of no more than speculation.”

Jennifer Riley, director of the organization Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania, responded to the Commonwealth Court’s decision, saying, “We are prepared to continue advocating for victims and to bring an appeal to the Supreme Court to ensure that the votes of Pennsylvanians are counted and that the voices of the victims are protected.”

In Pennsylvania, constitutional amendments need to be passed by the state Legislature during two successive legislative sessions. In 2018, both chambers unanimously passed the amendment. In 2019, the state Senate unanimously passed the amendment, and 190 of 202 state representatives voted for it. Gov. Tom Wolf (D) supported the ballot measure, as did the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and U.S. Reps. Fred Keller (R) and Scott Perry (R).

Opponents included the ACLU of Pennsylvania, League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania, and Pennsylvania Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Marsy’s Law for Pennsylvania raised $6.65 million from the Marsy’s Law for All Foundation to campaign for the measure.

Marsy’s Law ballot measures faced similar lawsuits in state courts in Kentucky and Montana. The amendment was struck down in Montana for violating the state’s separate-vote requirement on constitutional amendments. In Kentucky, after it was struck down for reasons related to ballot language, the state Legislature placed it on the ballot again in 2020. The 2020 version, which was approved, included the full text of the measure on the ballot.

As of January 2021, 12 states had Marsy’s Law amendments. Voters in two additional states—Pennsylvania and Montana—voted in favor of Marsy’s Law amendments, but they were overturned or blocked. Henry Nicholas, the co-founder of Broadcom Corp., started campaigning for Marsy’s Law to increase the rights and privileges of victims in state constitutions. Marsy’s Law is named after Nicholas’ sister, Marsy Nicholas, who was murdered in 1983.

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Summary of Nov. 3 state appeals court elections — Democrats win seats in Texas, Republicans gain in North Carolina

Democrats won eight of the 24 seats up this year in Texas’ intermediate appellate courts, all of which were held by Republican judges heading into the election. Republicans made gains in North Carolina, winning all five intermediate appellate court seats up this year, four of which were held by Democratic or Democratic-aligned justices.

The Republican Party had greater partisan risk in this year’s Texas intermediate appellate court elections, defending all 24 seats up. Democratic challengers defeated six Republican incumbents and won two open seats. Republicans won 11 uncontested races. In the 2018 elections, Democratic challengers defeated 19 Republican incumbents. Forty-five seats were up that year.

Democrats had the greater partisan risk in North Carolina this year. The five intermediate appellate court seats up included one held by a Republican, two held by Democrats, and two held by judges who were appointed by a Democratic governor but have not stood for partisan election. Republicans won all five races, defeating both Democratic incumbents and winning both open seats held by appointed judges.

Thirty states held intermediate appellate court elections in 2020. Six states held partisan general elections, 11 states held nonpartisan general elections, and 15 states held retention elections (this figure includes two states that held both partisan and retention elections). There were 201 seats up for election out of 976 seats on intermediate appellate courts nationwide.

Intermediate appellate courts serve as an intermediate step between the trial courts and the courts of last resort in a state. Their jurisdiction varies from state to state.

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New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Nakamura retires

New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Judith Nakamura retired on Dec. 1, 2020. She originally planned to retire on Aug. 1 but postponed her retirement date in June. 

Governor Susana Martinez (R) appointed Nakamura to the court in November 2015. Prior to her appointment, Nakamura was a judge on the New Mexico Second Judicial District Court and the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court. She received an undergraduate degree from the University of New Mexico and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law.

Under New Mexico law, state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointment, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. On Nov. 19, the judicial nominating commission recommended four candidates to the governor, two of which have served as District Court judges and two as Court of Appeals judges. Nakamura’s replacement will be Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) third nominee to the five-member supreme court. The new appointee will stand for partisan election in November 2022.

As of Dec. 2, two justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court were elected in partisan elections as Democrats, two were appointed by Lujan Grisham, and one seat was vacant.

In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, while 21 were caused by retirements.

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Ballotpedia publishes state court partisanship study

Each state has at least one supreme court, or court of last resort. Oklahoma and Texas each have two such courts, one for civil appeals and one for criminal appeals. Ballotpedia Courts: State Partisanship—a culmination of eight months of research and compilation of raw data—supplies Partisan Confidence Scores for 341 active state supreme court justices on all 52 courts of last resort. 

We gathered a variety of data on each justice and, based on that data, placed each justice into one of five categories indicating our confidence in their affiliations with either the Democratic or Republican Parties.

These categories are Strong Democratic ConfidenceMild Democratic ConfidenceIndeterminate ConfidenceMild Republican Confidence, and Strong Republican Confidence

The study does not specifically describe the partisan affiliation of judges. We call our scores Confidence Scores because we believe they provide insight into the degree of confidence we have in each justice’s political leanings because of their previous partisan activity.

Here are some of the key findings from the study:

  1. Of the 341 justices studied, we assigned Republican scores to 178 (52.2%), Democratic scores to 114 (33.4%), and Indeterminate scores to 49 (14.4%). 
  2. Twenty-seven states (54%) have a majority of justices with Republican scores. Fifteen state supreme courts (30%) have a majority of justices with Democratic scores. Eight state supreme courts (16%) do not have a majority of justices with Democratic scores or Republican scores. 
  3. 39.9% of the population live in a state which has a majority of justices with Democratic scores on the court. 51.1% of citizens live in a state which has a majority of justices with Republican scores on the court. 9% of citizens live in a state with a split court, or a court with a majority of justices with indeterminate partisan leanings. 

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New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announces retirement

On November 10, 2020, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene Fahey announced his retirement from the court, scheduled for December 31, 2021, when he reaches the court’s mandatory retirement age of 70 years old.

Justice Fahey joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2015. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Fahey served on the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division from December 22, 2006, until 2015. He served on the court’s Criminal Division in 2005. Fahey was elected to the State Supreme Court in 1996, where he also presided over cases in Erie County and the 8th Judicial District. He served on the court until 2005. Fahey was elected to the Buffalo City Court in 1994 and served until 1996. He served as a law clerk to Judge Edgar C. NeMoyer in the New York Court of Claims before entering private practice in 1985, where he served as house counsel for Kemper Insurance Company until 1993. Fahey served on the Buffalo Common Council from 1978 to 1983 and again from 1988 to 1994.

Fahey earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from the State University of New York at Buffalo, cum laude, in 1974. He earned a J.D. in 1984 and a master’s degree in European history in 1998.

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 remaining four active justices of the court are:

• Jenny Rivera – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2013

• Michael Garcia – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2016

• Rowan Wilson – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

• Paul Feinman – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

Associate Justice Leslie Stein is also scheduled to retire from the court in 2021, on June 4. At the time of the announcement, no reason was given for Stein’s retirement.

As of November 16, 2020, there are four supreme court vacancies scheduled to occur in 2021 in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were triggered by retirements.

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Justice on New York’s highest court schedules retirement

On November 3, 2020, State of New York Court of Appeals Justice Leslie Stein announced her retirement from the court, scheduled for June 4, 2021. At the time of the announcement, no reason for Stein’s retirement was given.

Justice Stein joined the State of New York Court of Appeals in 2015. She was appointed to the court by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D).

Before serving on the state supreme court, Stein was a judge with the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division (Third Department) from 2008 to 2015. From 2001 to 2008, she served as a judge with the New York Supreme Court 3rd Judicial District. During that time, she served as an administrative judge of the Rensselaer County Integrated Domestic Violence Part from 2006 to 2008 and as the chair of the 3rd Judicial District Gender Fairness Committee from 2001 to 2005. Stein served as a city court judge with the Albany City Court from 1997 to 2001. She also served as an acting family court judge in 2001. From 1983 to 1997, Stein worked as a private practice lawyer. In 1981, Stein worked as a confidential law clerk for the Schenectady County Family Court.

Stein earned an undergraduate degree from Macalester College in 1978. She earned a J.D. from the Albany Law School in 1981.

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 New York Court of Appeals is the state’s court of last resort.

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

The remaining 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
  • Paul Feinman – Appointed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017

As of November 9, 2020, there are three supreme court vacancies scheduled to occur in 2021 in three of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements.

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