A former Arizona Supreme Court Justice today petitioned his former colleagues to overturn part of the judicial retention election process.

Teaming up with the Goldwater Institute, Justice Andrew Gould is trying to abolish the district-like system, which they say disenfranchise voters outside of Maricopa County. The Petition (below) raises some interesting points about a system that they say is a vestige of an earlier time in Arizona when voters actually elected judges. (In 1974, Arizonans went to a ground-breaking merit selection and retention system.)

The Court of Appeals – in between the trial courts (Superior Courts) and the Supreme Court – is split into two Divisions. Division 1 is Maricopa County and most of the northern counties in Arizona. Division 2 is Pima County and most of the southern portion of the state. 

Division 1 is larger, and the statutes currently mandate that the 19 judges are 10 from Maricopa, 5 from the others and 4 at-larges. Divison 2 has 4 from Pima, 2 from the others and 3 at-larges. 

Even with this weighting, a disproportionate amount of cases are filed in Division 1, and the Legislature last year passed a statute that permitted the two Divisions to transfer cases to maintain proportionality. Currently, for example, every 7th civil appeal in Division 1 is transferred to Division 2.

This became more widely-known recently when Kari Lake’s Election Contest appeal was randomly transferred. It is unclear whether that transfer sparked Justice Gould’s interest in the subject.

Voters in Maricopa County vote on the retention of the 10 judges who must be from Maricopa County, plus whichever of the at-larges are from Maricopa County. Division 1 residents outside Maricopa County vote on the retention of the 5 required to be from outside Maricopa County and whichever at-larges are from the non-Maricopa County. And, so on.

Today’s Petition notes that (a) 10-14 judges are retained (or not) only by the 4.5M Maricopa County residents, 5-9 judges are  retained (or not) by 1M non-Maricopa County residents (in Div. 1), 4-7 by 1M Pima County residents, and 2-5 by 750K non-Pima County residents (in Div. 2); and (2) that all of these judges make law that impacts the entire state.

The Petition asks the Supreme Court to find the statutes violate Arizona’s Constitutional provisions (Free and Equal Elections Clause, and Equal Protections and Immunities Clause), and to order the Secretary of State’s Office to order all 15 counties to place all of the Court of Appeals Judges asking to be retained on their ballots.

This article was reported by AZ Law founder Paul Weich. 

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