New law gives Arizona governor more options for judge selections - Ahwatukee Foothills News: Valley And State

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New law gives Arizona governor more options for judge selections

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Posted: Friday, April 5, 2013 10:17 pm

If Gov. Jan Brewer gets to name another Supreme Court judge before she leaves office, she's going to have more choices -- if the law is not overturned.

Brewer on Friday signed legislation spelling out that the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments must nominate at least five individuals for each vacancy on the high court and the state Court of Appeals.

Right now a governor gets just three. And odds are that only two are from the governor's own political party.

The law, which takes effect later this year, imposes a similar requirement on the commissions that also screen applicants for the superior courts in Pima, Maricopa and Pinal counties.

Approval of the measure -- and Brewer's signature itself -- comes despite warnings from several lawyers that the legislation is in direct contradiction with the Arizona Constitution. A 1974 voter-approved amendment to that document says that screening panels can nominate as many people as they want but need send the governor just three.

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, acknowledged that point. But he said the legislation meets that requirement with an escape clause: If the selection commissions determine there are not five qualified applicants, they are free to send just three names.

That, however, requires a two-thirds vote of the panel.

Any challenge ultimately will be settled by the Supreme Court. All five justices were selected through the current process, though three of them are Brewer appointees.

Brewer has made it clear she has never been a fan of having to select from a list. In fact, shortly after becoming governor in 2009 Brewer said she really prefers a federal system, where she can appoint anyone, subject only to Senate confirmation.

But with that not constitutionally possible, Brewer instead backed Proposition 115 last year, a constitutional change which would have required governors be given at least eight names. That measure, however, was rejected by voters by a margin of close to 3 to 1.

This legislative change -- assuming it is legal -- does not need voter approval.

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