PHOENIX (AP) - Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday signed legislation adding two justices to the Arizona Supreme Court, despite opposition to the proposal from the high court’s top judge and concerns from critics that the move allows him to “pack” the court.
Ducey said in a signing letter that while he appreciates Chief Justice Scott Bales’ concerns, he believes the court can be more efficient and take more cases with seven justices instead of the current five.
Bales said in a letter urging a veto that the court’s caseload doesn’t merit expansion, especially when the Legislature has underfunded other court priorities.
Ducey also pushed back at critics who said the expansion was designed to allow the Republican governor to “pack” the court with political appointees.
“That’s just wrong,” Ducey wrote. “Arizona’s two new justices will be selected under our state’s nationally-renowned merit selection system, which includes nominations of qualified applicants by the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments.”
The commission, however, is appointed by the governor, and 5 of the current members were appointed by Ducey. The rest were appointed by former Gov. Jan Brewer, also a Republican.
The legislation was sponsored by Rep. J.D. Mesnard, R-Chandler, who has acknowledged that he likely would have second thoughts about expanding the court if a Democrat was in the governor’s office. He said the main reasons for boosting the court from the current five members are that it will bring greater diversity and split power between more members.
Democrats complain the legislation is designed to pack the court with Ducey’s conservative appointees.
Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, said there’s no need to add justices, and as the court itself has said, there’s no groundswell of public opinion driving the proposal.
“The only reason you would add justices is to pack the court for political reasons,” Farley said during Senate debate early this month. “This seems to be a blatant partisan power grab.”
Ducey appointed a longtime attorney for the conservative-leaning Goldwater Institute, Clint Bolick, to the high court earlier this year.
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