Tagstate supreme court

Hawaii governor appoints Eddins to state supreme court

Image of the Hawaii Supreme Court building in Honolulu.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) appointed Todd Eddins to the Hawaii Supreme Court on October 23, 2020. Pending confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate, Eddins will succeed Justice Richard W. Pollack, who retired on June 30, 2020, after reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 years. Eddins is Ige’s first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

Under Hawaii law, state supreme court justices are selected through the assisted appointment method. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating commission. The nominee requires confirmation from the Hawaii State Senate.

Eddins became a judge of the O’ahu First Circuit of Hawaii in 2017 after being appointed by Gov. Ige on February 9. The Hawaii State Senate confirmed Eddins on March 3, 2017.

Before his appointment to the O’ahu First Circuit, Eddins worked as a trial lawyer for the Office of the Public Defender. He also served as a clerk for Justice Yoshimi Hayashi of the Hawaii Supreme Court.

Eddins earned an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and a J.D. from the University of Hawaii, where he was the executive editor of the University of Hawaii Law Review.

The Hawaii Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of October 2020, three judges on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor, and one judge on the court was appointed by a Republican governor.

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, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.

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Illinois Supreme Court decides case allowing suspended police officers to seek backpay

On October 22, 2020, the Illinois Supreme Court decided Goral v. Dart, a case on police officers’ right to due process to claim backpay. 

The case concerned a decision regarding the legitimacy of Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart’s Merit Board. The Illinois Supreme Court upheld an appellate court’s decision which determined that officers suspended without pay could sue the sheriff’s office over the legitimacy of the merit board’s determination that those officers would be suspended without pay. The decision allows the officers to resume their case in circuit court where they may seek repayment for lost wages during their suspensions.

Justice P. Scott Neville (D) wrote the majority opinion in the case and was joined by Justices Thomas Kilbride (D) and Lloyd Karmeier (R) as well as Chief Justice Anne M. Burke (D). Justice Michael J. Burke (R) dissented, with opinion, joined by Justices Rita Garman (R) and Mary Jane Theis (D).

Attorneys Chris Cooper and Cass Casper, attorneys for the suspended police officers, said “Today Tom Dart is being told in crystal clear language that the officers are entitled to due process and entitled to their backpay.”

Sheriff’s office spokesman Matthew Walberg said, “Today’s Illinois Supreme Court decision is a catastrophic blow to law enforcement accountability… The decision rewards employees who engaged in criminal, unethical and despicable conduct at the expense of Illinois taxpayers.”

The election on November 3, 2020, will decide three seats on the Illinois Supreme Court:

  • District 1: Justices Neville is up for election. He was appointed by the Illinois Supreme Court to fill a vacancy on the court. Illinois is the only state in the country that allows the state supreme court to choose who fills a vacant seat on the court. 
  • District 3: Justice Kilbride faces a yes-no retention election to keep his seat on the state supreme court. 
  • District 5: Justice Karmeier’s seat is also up for election. Karmeier announced his retirement on December 6, 2019. 

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One North Dakota Supreme Court seat up for nonpartisan election in November

The seat held by North Dakota Supreme Court Justice Jon Jay Jensen will be up for a nonpartisan election on November 3, 2020. Jensen is seeking re-election unopposed. Gov. Doug Burgum (R) appointed Jensen in 2017.

Despite the normal method of judicial selection being a nonpartisan election, all but one justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court was initially appointed by the governor to fill a vacancy. One of the justices was appointed by a Democratic governor while three were appointed by Republican governors.

The justices on the North Dakota Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for ten-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election.

Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list of names given to him by the North Dakota Judicial Nominating Committee. The committee has six voting members and one non-voting chairman. The governor appoints two voting members and the non-voting chairman. The chief justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court and president of the State Bar Association of North Dakota each appoint two of the remaining four voting members. As an alternative to appointing a replacement, the governor may call a special election to fill the vacancy.

Appointed judges serve for at least two years, after which they must run in the general election to finish the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. North Dakota has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Texas Gov. Abbott appoints Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on state supreme court

On October 15, 2020, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) appointed Rebeca Huddle to replace Justice Paul Green on the Texas Supreme Court.

Justice Green announced his retirement from the Texas Supreme Court in August 2020.

Huddle is a Republican who served as a justice on Texas’ First District Court of Appeals. She graduated from Stanford University and the University of Texas School of Law. Upon her appointment, Huddle said, “I understand the magnitude of the trust and responsibility that the governor is placing in me and in every justice of the Supreme Court, and I’ll work hard every day to earn that trust anew.”

Huddle will face a retention election in 2022 to keep her seat on the court.

Abbott said, “Rebeca is a first-generation American. Her mother emigrated from Juarez to Texas and later became a naturalized citizen. Rebeca’s father passed away when she was just 5 years old … Although her mother never graduated from high school, she worked tirelessly as a seamstress in a factory in El Paso to provide for Rebeca and her four siblings.”

Abbott has appointed three others to fill vacancies on the all-Republican appointed Texas Supreme Court since taking office in 2015. He appointed Justices Jane Bland, Brett Busby and Jimmy Blacklock.

Four justices on the Texas Supreme Court face re-election in 2020: Jeffrey S. Boyd, Brett Busby, Nathan Hecht, Jane Bland.

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Rhode Island Supreme Court justice set to retire in December

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis Flaherty is retiring on December 31, 2020. Flaherty announced plans to pursue other interests following his retirement.

Flaherty earned a bachelor’s degree from Providence College in 1968. He earned a J.D., cum laude, from Suffolk University Law School in 1975.

Flaherty’s career experience includes working as an attorney in private practice in Warwick, Rhode Island, serving as an assistant city solicitor, and serving with the Warwick City Council from 1978 to 1985. Flaherty was elected Mayor of Warwick and served from 1984 to 1991. He also served as a member of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education from 1988 to 2003. He was appointed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2003.

The five justices of the Rhode Island Supreme Court are appointed by the governor with help from a nominating commission. Supreme court nominees must be approved by both the state House and the state Senate.

The current chief justice of the court is Paul Suttell, who was appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2003. Gov. Carcieri named Suttell as the chief justice of the court in 2009.

The remaining two active justices of the court are:
• Maureen McKenna Goldberg – Appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) in 1997
• William Robinson – Appointed by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2004

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia retired from the court on June 30, 2020. Indeglia’s seat is currently 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, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements. Thirteen vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. Eight 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.

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Two Montana Supreme Court seats are up for nonpartisan election in November

The seats of Montana Supreme Court Justices Laurie McKinnon and Jim Shea will be up for a nonpartisan election in November. Jim Shea is running uncontested while McKinnon is running in a race with Mike Black.

McKinnon was last elected in 2012 while Shea was appointed in 2014 and elected in 2016. Two of Montana’s supreme court justices, including Shea, were appointed by Democratic governors, one was appointed by a Republican governor, and the rest were elected.

The seven justices on the Montana Supreme Court are elected in nonpartisan elections for eight-year terms. The candidates compete in primaries where the top two contestants advance to the general election. Whenever a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list produced by the Montana Judicial Nominating Commission. The appointee, if confirmed by the Montana Senate, then remains in the seat until the next general election after their appointment. At this time, the appointed justice must run for re-election as the incumbent in a nonpartisan election to complete the remainder of the unexpired term.

Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. Montana has not seen an incumbent supreme court justice lose an election during this same time frame.

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Whitener, Serns compete in Washington State Supreme Court election

Incumbent G. Helen Whitener and Richard Serns are running in the special general election for Washington State Supreme Court Position 6 on November 3, 2020.

Whitener was appointed by Governor Jay Inslee (D) on April 13, 2020, following Justice Charles K. Wiggins’ retirement. Whitener was previously a judge on the Pierce County Superior Court, on the Washington Board of Industrial Appeals, and an attorney in private practice.

Whitener said that the main issue in the election is experience. She said, “I would not get on a plane with a pilot who just got his license and hadn’t gotten some flying under the guidance of a well-seasoned pilot… That might be a bad analogy but it is very similar to what we’ve been discussing.” 

Richard Serns is a former school administrator. Serns responded to Ballotpedia’s Candidate Connection survey and said his professional experience includes working as a superintendent of schools, as an adjunct law school professor, as the lead negotiator for collective bargaining agreements, and as a Title IX, non-discrimination, anti-bullying, and anti-harassment compliance officer.

Serns said the constitution does not require prior experience in law to serve on the court, and that “sometimes an outsider can bring a new set of eyes and that can be helpful to deliberations.” He also argued that his experience as an administrator gives him the skillset for a position on the court: “The skillset is listening carefully, asking probing questions, research, research, research, deliberate, confer and write,” he said. “All of those things I’ve had extensive experience at.”

Whitener is one of five justices on the nine-member Washington State Supreme Court appointed by Democratic governors to fill vacancies.

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One Alaska Supreme Court justice seeks retention in November

Alaska Supreme Court Justice Susan Carney is seeking retention on November 3, 2020. She was appointed by Gov. Bill Walker (I) in 2016.

Currently, four of the justices on the court were appointed by a Republican governor while one was appointed by an independent governor.

The governor appoints the five justices of the supreme court through a hybrid nominating commission where neither the governor nor the Alaska State Bar Association has majority control over the judicial nominating commission. The Alaska Judicial Council is made up of seven members: three lawyers (appointed by the board of governors of the Alaska Bar Association), three non-lawyer members (appointed by the governor and confirmed by a majority of the legislature in joint session), and is chaired by the chief justice of the supreme court.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least three years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years with a mandatory retirement age of 70. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Alaska, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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