Commission On Appellate Court Appointments In Spotlight As Redistricting Fight Nears

Published: Thursday, January 2, 2020 - 12:33pm
Updated: Thursday, January 2, 2020 - 1:02pm
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STEVE GOLDSTEIN: Tomorrow is the deadline for new non-attorney applicants to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. The commission's 16 members are responsible for recommending judicial applicants to the governor and partisan applicants for the state's Independent Redistricting Commission to legislative leaders. The latter is of particular concern to Democrats ahead of the next round of redistricting. And with me to talk more about this is Hank Stephenson, editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Hank, good morning.

HANK STEPHENSON: Good morning, Steve.

GOLDSTEIN: So, the makeup on the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments has really been a point of frustration for Democrats before. We saw a little bit of that in 2018. This time, though, even more angst about the process, because the deadline for applicants, as we mentioned, is tomorrow. Why is this happening?

STEPHENSON: You know, the governor's office says that that's always been the deadline, just that it hadn't been publicized before. They didn't start publicizing this until, I don't know, like a week before Christmas or something, not leaving a lot of room for people to get their resumes in order, fill out the forms, whatever, to become official applicants. So I think that that kind of short notice on the deadline, or maybe a short deadline has a lot of Democrats looking in conjunction with the pattern of appointments to this commission, looking at this as kind of partisan hackery, I guess.

GOLDSTEIN: OK. How many seats need to be filled, Hank, and at this point, no Democrats on there?

STEPHENSON: I don't know, Steve, how many need to be filled. But at this point, there are no Democrats on the commission. They've all been replaced in recent years by independents, who many of the Democrats claim are actually just Republicans in independents' clothing.

GOLDSTEIN: And as we mentioned in the introduction, that issue comes into play a lot with the IRC, the Independent District Commission, because that that fifth seat takes on so much intrigue because the person is supposed to be an independent. And this commission is going to be responsible for recommending applicants. Just give us the background, why this is so vital now as we head into the census and we head into redistricting.

STEPHENSON: Yeah, I mean, nine years out of 10 and nine times out of 10, nobody cares what the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments is doing. The only exception that I can think of was Bill Montgomery's appointment to the Supreme Court. Bill Montgomery was a pretty controversial county attorney in Maricopa County who recently became a Supreme Court justice on his first attempt to get the position. He didn't clear the commission on appellate court appointments. They didn't recommend his name to Gov. Doug Ducey, didn't forward him on. Ducey replaced a whole bunch of members of the commission shortly afterwards. And, you know, next time there was an appointment up for the Supreme Court, the commission passed Bill Montgomery's name on as a possible Supreme Court contender. And, lo and behold, Bill Montgomery is now on our Supreme Court. So other than that, the only time that regular folks or even regular politicos would pay attention to this commission is in years of redistricting. And that is coming up next year. The state will have to start cutting up the congressional legislative districts. And the commission actually recommends, basically vets, the people who can possibly be members of the Independent Redistricting Commission.

GOLDSTEIN: I guess "hackery" was the word to used, Hank, that some people are accusing the governor of that? The IRC was created because it's supposed to be less political than if legislators were drawing their own districts and helping draw the congressional districts. Is the governor and Republicans playing the process in anticipation of redistricting?

STEPHENSON: Oh, absolutely. There's no question that they are. If they weren't, it would be stupid of them. The Republicans, I think everyone would agree, lost the last round of redistricting in the state. We now have a majority Democratic congressional delegation because of the way that those lines were drawn, largely. Republicans were just caught flat-footed 10 years ago, and they don't want to be in the same position again. So they are absolutely trying to set this commission in a way that will give control basically to the governor and the Republican Party to pick the 10 Republican candidates, the 10 Democratic candidates and the independent candidate.

GOLDSTEIN: And Hank, you had one story in the Yellow Sheet that really was able to pinpoint what members of the commission actually do. It was related to someone who was applying for a judgeship.

STEPHENSON: A couple of months ago, we found a candidate for an appeals court position, was ripping off speeches from Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito in her application to be a judge. And we thought that we had kind of caught this thing and brought it to light. But apparently a member of the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments had also spotted this. So it's nice to know that at least they take that job seriously of vetting court candidates.

GOLDSTEIN: That is Hank Stephenson, editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Hank, thank you and feel better. Happy New Year.

STEPHENSON: Thanks a lot, Steve.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been modified to correct the spelling of Stephenson's name.

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