Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) appointed Dana Kuehn to the Oklahoma Supreme Court on July 26. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Tom Colbert’s retirement on Feb. 1. Kuehn is Stitt’s third nominee to the nine-member supreme court.
Under Oklahoma law, state supreme court justices are selected by the governor with help from a nominating commission. The nominating commission puts forward a list of three names from which the governor chooses the appointee. The appointed judge serves an initial term of at least one year before standing for retention in the next general election.
Before her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn served as a judge on the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals. She was appointed to that seat in 2017. From 2006 to 2017, Kuehn was a Tulsa County associate district judge. Prior to becoming a judge, she worked as a Tulsa County district attorney and as an attorney in private practice with Steidley & Neal, PLLC. Kuehn earned a B.A. in political science from Oklahoma State University and a J.D. from the University of Tulsa College of Law.
With her appointment to the supreme court, Kuehn became the first woman to serve on both of Oklahoma’s high courts.
In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 12 of those vacancies have been filled.
On July 22, the Missouri Supreme Court unanimously ruled that a constitutional amendment enacting Medicaid expansion was constitutional. The decision reversed a lower court’s ruling that found the amendment approved by voters last August to be unconstitutional because it did not include a revenue source for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. The Supreme Court ruled that the amendment “does not remove the General Assembly’s discretion in appropriating money to MO HealthNet,” and therefore, “the circuit court erred in declaring article IV, section 36(c) constitutionally invalid.”
The Supreme Court concluded that the Department of Social Services and Missouri HealthNet, who are responsible for the administration of Medicaid in Missouri, are required to use the funds appropriated by the legislature on all eligible recipients under the adopted amendment. The amendment, which was approved by a margin of 53.27% to 46.73%, expanded Medicaid eligibility in Missouri to adults that are 19 years of age or older and younger than 65 whose income is 138% of the federal poverty level or below under the Affordable Care Act.
Stephanie Doyle, Melinda Hille, and Autumn Stultz—three individuals who qualify for Medicaid under the expanded eligibility—filed the lawsuit in Cole County Circuit Court. On June 23, Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem ruled that the amendment was unconstitutional because it did not include a way for the state to pay for the Medicaid expansion. He wrote, “If the court allows them to spend other state revenues by initiative such action would deprive the General Assembly of its constitutional right to appropriate revenues in all other non-initiative circumstances.”
Amy Blouin of the Missouri Budget Project said, “As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Missourians across the state will finally be able to realize the health and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion. State after state has shown that in addition to providing insurance to those eligible, expansion is a fiscal and economic boon to state economies and budgets.”
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Dan Hegeman (R), who opposed the amendment, said, “The legal gymnastics employed by the court to get their desired political outcome sets a dangerous precedent and greatly diminishes the power of Missourians’ elected representatives.”
Since the Supreme Court has upheld Medicaid expansion, the state must file paperwork with the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to set up the enrollment process for newly eligible individuals. Governor Mike Parson (R) previously withdrew the state’s paperwork in May after the state legislature passed the state’s budget without expanding funding for Medicaid.
The amendment faced legal challenges before the vote last August. In May 2020, two separate lawsuits were filed against Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) challenging the constitutionality of the citizen-initiated ballot measure by Americans for Prosperity-Missouri and United for Missouri. Both lawsuits argued that the initiative was unconstitutional because it appropriated state funds without creating a new source of revenue. In June 2020, Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel Green ruled in favor of the initiative keeping it on the ballot. Judge Green argued that the ballot measure does not require the state legislature to appropriate money for Medicaid expansion, and therefore, it does not need to provide a funding source. Missouri Western District Court of Appeals upheld Judge Green’s decision to keep the initiative on the August ballot after United for Missouri and Americans for Prosperity-Missouri appealed the decision.
Missouri joins 38 states and Washington, D.C., in expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.
Governor Brian Kemp (R) appointed Verda Colvin to the Georgia Supreme Court and Fitz Johnson to the Georgia Public Service Commission on July 20 and 21, respectively. Colvin will fill the vacancy left by Justice Harold Melton, who retired on July 1 of this year, while Johnson will take former Commissioner Chuck Eaton’s position. Governor Kemp appointed Eaton to the Fulton County Superior Court on July 20.
Founded in 1845, the Georgia Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort and has nine judgeships. The current chief of the court is David Nahmias. As of July 2021, Republican governors appointed seven judges (eight once Colvin is sworn in) on the court and one was initially selected in a nonpartisan election. Judges are selected using the nonpartisan election of judges system. They serve six-year terms. When an interim vacancy occurs, the seat is filled using the assisted appointment method of judicial selection with the governor picking the interim justice from a slate provided by the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission.
The Georgia Public Service Commission is a quasi-executive, quasi-legislative state body responsible for regulating Georgia’s public utilities: electric, gas, telecommunications, and transportation firms. The commission is composed of five popularly elected members who serve staggered, six-year terms. If a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement to serve until the next general election. According to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Johnson must win election in November 2022 to serve the remainder of Eaton’s term, which expires in 2024.
Colvin succeededHarold Melton, who retired on July 1. Chief Justice Melton joined the Georgia Supreme Court in 2005. He was appointed to the court by Gov. Sonny Perdue (R).
Prior to her appointment to the state supreme court, Colvin served as a judge of the Georgia Court of Appeals. Kemp appointed her to that court on March 27, 2020. Colvin was previously a judge with the Macon Circuit of the 3rd Superior Court District of Georgia. She was appointed to that court by Gov. Nathan Deal (R) on March 24, 2014. Prior to becoming a superior court judge, she was an attorney in the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies have been caused by retirements. To date, 11 of the vacancies have been filled.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Briana Zamora to the New Mexico Supreme Court on July 16. The appointment filled a vacancy on the court caused by former Justice Barbara J. Vigil’s retirement on June 30. Zamora is Gov. Lujan Grisham’s fourth nominee to the five-member supreme court.
Under New Mexico law, midterm state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointments, where the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission. Appointees serve until the next general election, in which they must participate in a partisan election to remain on the bench for the remainder of the unexpired term.
Briana Zamora previously served as a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals from 2018 until her appointment to the state supreme court. She served as a district court judge from 2013 to 2018 and as a metro court judge from 2009 to 2013. Prior to becoming a judge, Zamora worked as an attorney in private practice, as an assistant state attorney general, and as an assistant district attorney. She earned an undergraduate degree in government and psychology from New Mexico State University and a J.D., with honors, from the University of New Mexico School of Law.
In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, 10 of those 14 vacancies have been filled.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on July 8 issued decisions in two environmental cases that had pitted the state legislature against the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in a disagreement over which government entity has the authority to regulate water pollution and irrigation practices. In both cases, the court held 4-2 that the DNR is authorized to restrict permits in order to protect the state’s water resources.
The pair of cases, both initiated by Clean Wisconsin Inc. and Pleasant Lake Management District, centered on Wisconsin Act 21—a 2011 law that limits state agency authority by prohibiting state agencies from taking actions not specifically authorized by the state legislature.
The first case concerned an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) order that the DNR limit the size of a dairy herd causing nearby groundwater contamination. The DNR under then-Governor Scott Walker (R) did not enforce the ALJ’s directive, arguing that Act 21 prohibited the agency from carrying out the order.
A Dane County Circuit Court judge in 2016 affirmed the DNR’s authority to limit the size of the dairy herd to address water pollution. The DNR appealed the decision to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The current DNR under Governor Tony Evers (D) changed its position and had since claimed regulatory authority in the case.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court upheld the circuit court’s decision. Writing for the majority, Justice Jill Karofsky stated, “we conclude that an agency may rely upon a grant of authority that is explicit but broad when undertaking agency action, and such an explicit but broad grant of authority complies with [Act 21].”
In the second case, challengers sued the DNR seeking stricter enforcement of regulations regarding large-scale water withdrawals for irrigation. Challengers claimed that the agency failed to consider the cumulative negative impact on water levels in nearby lakes and streams when it issued permits for nine high-capacity wells. As in the previous case, the DNR argued that Act 21 prevented the agency from considering the cumulative impact of the new wells.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court again affirmed the circuit court’s decision in the case, holding that the DNR erroneously claimed that it lacked regulatory authority. Writing for the majority, Justice Rebecca Dallet stated, “The DNR’s authority to consider the environmental effects of proposed high capacity wells, while broad, is nevertheless explicitly permitted by statute.”
Chief Justice Annette Ziegler joined Justices Ann Walsh Bradley, Rebecca Dallet and Jill Karofsky in both majority opinions. Justice Brian Hagedorn did not participate in the case.
Justices Rebecca Bradley and Patience Roggensack dissented, arguing in part: “Elevating its environmental policy preferences over the legislature’s prerogative to reclaim its constitutional authority, the majority distorts the plain language of [Act 21] to achieve its own ends.”
Alaska and Arizona have new state supreme court justices after appointments from their respective governors. Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy (R) appointed Jennifer Stuart Henderson to the Alaska Supreme Court on July 7, and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) appointed Kathryn Hackett King to the Arizona Supreme Court on July 8.
A seat on the Alaska Supreme Court became vacant when former Chief Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30, 2021. Gov. Dunleavy selected Jennifer Stuart Henderson for the seat from a list of three finalists forwarded by the Alaska Judicial Council (AJC). Henderson is Gov. Dunleavy’s second nominee to the five-member supreme court.
On July 1, Dunleavy asked the AJC to reconsider its list of nominees and put forward a new slate to fill the vacancy. However, under the council’s bylaws, it may not reconsider nominees that have been sent to the governor except in specific circumstances. Ultimately, Dunleavy appointed Henderson from the original slate of three names put forward by the AJC.
Prior to her appointment to the supreme court, Henderson served as a judge on the Alaska superior court. She was appointed to the superior court in 2012 by former Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell (R). Her career experience also includes working as an assistant district attorney in Anchorage and as an attorney in private practice with the law firm of Farley & Graves. After law school, she served as a clerk for former Alaska Supreme Court Justice Warren Matthews. Henderson earned a J.D. from Yale Law School.
A seat on the Arizona Supreme Court became vacant when former Justice Andrew W. Gould retired on April 1, 2021. Gov. Ducey selected Kathryn Hackett King for the seat from a slate of nominees put forward by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. King is Gov. Ducey’s sixth nominee to the seven-member supreme court.
Before her appointment to the supreme court, King was a partner at the law firm of BurnsBarton PLC. She also served as a member of the Arizona Board of Regents. From 2015 to 2017, King served as the deputy general counsel to Gov. Ducey. She previously practiced law at Snell & Wilmer LLP. After graduation from law school, King clerked for former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Michael D. Ryan from 2007 to 2008. She is the fifth woman in Arizona history to serve on the state supreme court.
King earned a B.A. in political science from Duke University and a J.D. from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law.
In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. To date, nine of those 14 vacancies have been filled.
Alaska Supreme Court Justice Joel Bolger retired on June 30. Former Gov. Sean Parnell (R) appointed Bolger to the state supreme court in 2013, and voters retained him in 2016 with 57% of the vote. When he retired, Bolger was the court’s chief justice, a position he had held since 2018.
Bolger is the only justice in Alaska’s history to have been appointed to all four levels of the state court system. Before joining the Alaska Supreme Court, he was a judge of the Alaska Court of Appeals from 2008 to 2013, the Kodiak Superior Court from 2003 to 2008, and the Valdez District Court from 1997 to 2003.
When there is a midterm vacancy on the Alaska Supreme Court, the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from the Alaska Judicial Council. To remain in office, the new appointee must stand for retention in the first general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. After that, the judge is subject to a retention election every 10 years.
Republican governors appointed three of the four active Alaska Supreme Court justices; an independent governor appointed the fourth. Bolger’s replacement will be Gov. Dunleavy’s (R) second appointee to the state supreme court.
In 2021, there have been 14 state supreme court vacancies caused by retirements in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.
New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Barbara Vigil retired on June 30. She joined the court in 2012 after winning election to an open seat on the court against Paul J. Kennedy, 55% to 45%. Vigil won a retention election for a full eight-year term in 2016, with 72% of voters retaining her. Before that, Vigil served for 12 years as a New Mexico First Judicial District Court judge.
In the event of a midterm vacancy, New Mexico Supreme Court justices are chosen by assisted gubernatorial appointment, which means that the governor will select a nominee based on recommendations from the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. To remain in office, the new appointee must stand for partisan election in November 2022 and retention election in 2024.
All five New Mexico Supreme Court justices have been either elected as Democrats or appointed by a Democratic governor. Vigil’s replacement will be Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s (D) fourth nominee to the five-member supreme court, and Chief Justice Michael Vigil (no relation) was elected as a Democrat.
In 2021, there have been 14 supreme court vacancies caused by retirements in 12 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected.
New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil on June 28 affirmed a lower court’s ruling to allow an effort to recall Couy Griffin (R) from his position as the District 2 representative on the Otero County Commission to move forward. Once the recall petitions are signed by the lower court justice who initially approved them, recall supporters will be given 90 days to collect 1,574 signatures to get the recall on the ballot.
New Mexico allows recalls at the county level for “malfeasance or misfeasance in office or violation of the oath of office by the official concerned.” Those actions must have occurred during the official’s current term of office in order for a recall effort to be approved to circulate petitions.
Recall supporters said Griffin had used the office for personal gain. Griffin said the allegations against him were baseless and politically motivated.
Griffin, who founded the organization Cowboys for Trump, was arrested in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 17, for his alleged role in the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. He was charged with “knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority,” according to the Alamogordo Daily News. Griffin was released from federal prison on Feb. 5.
After Griffin was arrested, District 1 Commissioner Gerald Matherly (R) and District 3 Commissioner Vickie Marquardt (R) called for his resignation, as did New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas (D). Griffin said he would not resign. He said he was accused of crimes but not convicted. “I just want those that have already come to the conclusion that I’m guilty, I just again ask you to put the brakes on a little bit and let the legal process take place,” Griffin said.
Griffin was elected to the three-member commission in 2018, defeating Democratic candidate Christopher S. Jones with 65% of the vote.
In the first half of 2021, Ballotpedia tracked 164 recall efforts against 262 officials. This was the most recall efforts for this point in the year since the first half of 2016, when we tracked 189 recall efforts against 265 officials. In comparison, we tracked between 72 and 155 efforts by the midpoints of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020.