Editorial: High court battle mirrors states’ judicial moves

Just when you thought the big court debate this year was the U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, changes are underway across the nation that threaten to shift constitutional balances of power.

Yes, Antonin Scalia’s death has Democrats and Republicans lining up over confirmation hearings – or the lack thereof. And, yes, one side says 4-4 splits could result without a new Supreme Court justice, while the other side says the Presidential election should stand as a referendum as to who drives the course of nominations to the country’s highest court.

At the same time, state courts are battle grounds themselves. For example, the Associated Press reported Arizona House Bill 2537 would expand the state Supreme Court from five to seven justices. House members advanced it 33-26, and it is currently pending in the Senate.

Elsewhere, SB 439 would expand the rules in Kansas allowing for the impeachment of state Supreme Court justices; HB 927 would expand Georgia’s high court from seven to nine justices, while HB 808 and HR 1113 would provide for a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to dissolve the commission that has the power to discipline and remove judges; HR 108 and SR 42 in Missouri would provide for a constitutional amendment, to be decided on a ballot, detailing procedures for the court when the government seeks to limit a person’s constitutional rights; and finally, Oklahoma HJR 1069 would allow voters to overturn state court opinions based on constitutionality.

Courts are big business – or politics – considering that partisan control of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court flipped last fall after six candidates for three open seats combined for $12.2 million in contributions and two independent groups spent an additional $3.5 million. (Three Democrats swept all of the races, ending Republican control.)

The races can be acrimonious.

Thus, for Arizona, if expansion is successful justices should remain appointees – rather than elected; though, districts for them make sense to keep the power from centering in Maricopa County.

And, since justices are appointed, a Democratic senator has said the plan could be seen as an effort to “pack” the court with conservative justices. He suggested delaying implementation until the next governor takes office.

Oh, and that Kansas impeachment of justices? Seems the Kansas Supreme Court ordered the legislature there to restore school funding; if approved, the bill would enable state senators to impeach justices who attempt to “usurp the power” of lawmakers and executive branch officials.

Appointees? Delay? School funding? It all sounds too familiar.