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Expert Brief

Assaults on the Courts: A Legislative Round-Up

Amid the Trump administration’s continued attacks on the federal judiciary, there has been a quieter political push targeting state courts. This roundup looks at laws from state legislatures that pose the biggest threat.

Published: May 8, 2017

In recent months, there has been much justi­fied concern about the Trump admin­is­tra­tion’s attacks on the federal judi­ciary. The pres­id­ent’s assault on the legit­im­acy of a “so-called judge,” his asser­tion that the courts would be to blame for a terror­ist attack, and his more recent call to break up the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after it ruled against the admin­is­tra­tion all pose troub­ling threats to courts’ essen­tial role in protect­ing rights and uphold­ing the rule of law in our demo­cracy.

During this same period, however, there has also been a quieter polit­ical push target­ing state courts — which hear more than 95 percent of all cases nation­wide, with more than 100 million cases coming before nearly 30,000 state court judges each year. In state legis­latures across the coun­try, a wave of bills this year has sought to limit courts’ power or polit­ic­ally manip­u­late the judi­ciary in troub­ling ways.  

This year, at least 41 bills in 15 states have targeted state courts, includ­ing efforts to control the ways by which judges reach the bench, to unseat judges currently on courts, and gener­ally to restrict courts’ juris­dic­tion and power. While lawmakers have employed similar tactics in the past, one new trend is a group of bills that would allow state legis­latures to over­ride or refuse to enforce court decisions, poten­tially under­min­ing the role of the courts in our consti­tu­tional system. So far this year, nine such bills have been intro­duced in seven states.

Many bills reflect appar­ent attempts to increase polit­ical influ­ence over the courts, entrench partisan interests, or respond to unpop­u­lar judi­cial rulings. They also align with broader trends toward the heightened politi­ciz­a­tion of state courts, rais­ing concerns that it will become increas­ingly diffi­cult for judges to put aside partisan and ideo­lo­gical pref­er­ences when decid­ing cases. Unfor­tu­nately, many of these meas­ures have had polit­ical trac­tion: bills target­ing the courts have passed in Arkan­sas, Geor­gia, Indi­ana, and North Caro­lina. In Arizona, Flor­ida, Illinois, and Oklahoma bills have been voted out of a cham­ber of the legis­lature.

North Caro­lin­a’s exper­i­ence is partic­u­larly note­worthy. Since Demo­crats won control of the governor’s office and the state Supreme Court last Novem­ber, the state’s Repub­lican-controlled legis­lature has passed a series of laws that weaken the governor’s power over judi­cial selec­tion and entrench Repub­lican control in the lower courts — normal­iz­ing polit­ical inter­fer­ence in the rules govern­ing how judges are chosen and how courts are struc­tured.

One new law reduces the size of North Caro­lin­a’s inter­me­di­ate appel­late court by three seats, thus prevent­ing the governor from filling vacan­cies that are expec­ted to open when several (Repub­lican-appoin­ted) judges step down due to the state’s mandat­ory retire­ment age. The bill was passed without input from the court of appeals, its judges, or the courts’ admin­is­trat­ive body. In a dramatic move, days before the legis­lature over­rode the governor’s veto, Judge Doug McCul­lough, a Repub­lican who was expec­ted to resign later this month when he reached the mandat­ory retire­ment age, resigned in protest so that the governor would be able to appoint a new judge to fill the seat before the bill was enacted. Judge McCul­lough said: “I did not want my legacy to be the elim­in­a­tion of a seat and the impair­ment of a court that I have served on.”

The politi­ciz­a­tion of the judi­ciary threatens the integ­rity of our courts and the prom­ise of equal justice for all. Draw­ing on bills iden­ti­fied in the National Center for State Courts’ Gavel to Gavel website and in a review of media reports, this resource high­lights how this politi­ciz­a­tion is play­ing out in state legis­latures across the coun­try.

Table of Contents

Provi­sions Allow­ing Legis­latures to Over­ride Courts or Refuse to Enforce Court Decisions

In at least seven states, bills have been intro­duced that would allow legis­latures to over­rule or refuse to enforce court decisions. These bills come in the context of rising tensions between state legis­latures and courts in many states, often in response to unpop­u­lar court decisions in areas such as school fund­ing and LGBT rights. In support of a bill in Flor­ida, one lawmaker wrote: “It is my concer­ted view that such provi­sions, if enacted by the people would curtail the tend­ency of activ­ist judges to manip­u­late the law to suit their polit­ical views and agen­das.” Some of these bills apply to state court rulings, while others purport to give states the power to over­rule federal courts. During the 2011–12 bien­nium, legis­lat­ors in New Hamp­shire, Oklahoma, and Tennessee made a similar push to bar judi­cial review of acts passed by the state legis­lature, but those meas­ures were ulti­mately unsuc­cess­ful.
 

State:               ARIZONA
Bill Info
:           HB 2097; Spon­sor: Rep. Bob Thorpe; Intro­duced: 1/12/2017         
Descrip­tion:     This bill would grant the legis­lature the power to prohibit the use of any state resources to imple­ment or admin­is­ter a federal court ruling or other federal action that it determ­ines viol­ates the U.S. Consti­tu­tion.
Status:             The bill passed the House on 2/1/2017 and was sent to the Senate.

State:               FLOR­IDA
Bill Info:           SJR 1098 / HJR 121; Spon­sor: Sen. Keith Perry / Rep. Julio Gonzales and co- spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/7/2017       
Descrip­tion:     This bill, an amend­ment to the state consti­tu­tion, would allow the legis­lature to over­ride any Flor­ida state court decision that voided a “law, resol­u­tion, or other legis­lat­ive act,” based on a two-thirds vote within five years of the ruling. If approved, this amend­ment would appear as a ballot meas­ure.
Status:             The joint resol­u­tion was intro­duced on 3/7/2017 in both the Senate and the House. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.

State:              FLOR­IDA
Bill Info
:          HM 125; Spon­sor: Rep. Julio Gonzales and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/7/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill urges Congress to propose an amend­ment to the U.S. Consti­tu­tion that would allow Congress to over­rule federal court decisions.
Status:            The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.

State:              IDAHO
Bill Info:          HB 65; Spon­sor: Rep. Paul Shep­herd; Intro­duced: 1/26/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill would author­ize the legis­lature to inval­id­ate federal laws and court decisions that it declares viol­ate the U.S. Consti­tu­tion and would bar state judges from enfor­cing them.
Status:            The bill was referred to the House State Affairs Commit­tee on 1/27/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 3/29/2017.

State:              MISSOURI
Bill Info:          HJR 41; Spon­sor: Rep. Jeff Pogue; Intro­duced: 3/1/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill, a proposed consti­tu­tional amend­ment, would allow voters and the legis­lature to submit federal laws to a ballot initi­at­ive. It provides that “if a major­ity of the voters vote in oppos­i­tion to the consti­tu­tion­al­ity of the federal law, then it shall not be enforced by any agency, court, or polit­ical subdi­vi­sion of this state and no state moneys shall be expen­ded for the enforce­ment of the federal law. Further­more, if a federal law is declared uncon­sti­tu­tional by major­ity vote of a refer­en­dum in this state, then the courts of this state shall be stripped of juris­dic­tion to enforce such a partic­u­lar federal law[.]”
Status:            The bill was read a second time on 3/2/2017 in the House.

State:              OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:          HR 1004; Spon­sor: Rep. Chuck Strohm; Intro­duced: 2/13/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill directs state judges not to “inter­fere” with the state’s abor­tion laws.
Status:            The bill was intro­duced on 2/13/2017 in the House.

State:               TEXAS
Bill Info:           SB 1307; Spon­sor: Sen. Bob Hall; Intro­duced: 3/14/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would protect judges from any discip­lin­ary action by the State Commis­sion on Judi­cial Conduct for refus­ing to obey a federal court ruling.
Status:             The bill was referred to the Senate Commit­tee on State Affairs on 3/14/2017.

State:               TEXAS
Bill Info:           HB 2808; Spon­sor: Rep. Valoree Swan­son; Intro­duced: 3/30/2017                         
Descrip­tion:     The bill would prevent state agen­cies from using appro­pri­ated money to enforce federal actions, includ­ing court decisions, unless that use is expli­citly author­ized by the legis­lature.
Status:             The bill was referred to the House Select Commit­tee on State & Federal Power & Respons­ib­il­ity on 3/30/2017.

State:               WASH­ING­TON
Bill Info:           HB 1072; Spon­sor: Rep. John Koster; Intro­duced: 1/9/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would allow the legis­lature, by major­ity vote, to over­ride a court decision declar­ing a legis­lat­ive act uncon­sti­tu­tional.
Status:             The bill was referred to the House Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 1/9/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 4/23/2017. The bill was rein­tro­duced in the special legis­lat­ive session, which convened on 4/24/2017.


Changes to Judi­cial Selec­tion Systems

Changes to states’ judi­cial selec­tion proced­ures are not neces­sar­ily prob­lem­atic; indeed, many states’ judi­cial selec­tion systems are in urgent need of reform. But many of the bills described below risk increas­ing the politi­ciz­a­tion of state courts, either by giving polit­ical actors more control over the selec­tion of judges, or by increas­ing partisan advant­age. In Oklahoma, for example, where the legis­lature has previ­ously battled with the courts –– includ­ing calls by lawmakers in 2014 to impeach state supreme court justices follow­ing a ruling order­ing removal of a Ten Command­ments monu­ment from the state capitol –– several bills would give the polit­ical branches more control over judi­cial selec­tion, or have the func­tion of unseat­ing judges currently on the bench. In North Caro­lina, after a Demo­crat won the state’s gubernat­orial race last Novem­ber, the Repub­lican-controlled legis­lature intro­duced bills that would trans­fer judi­cial selec­tion powers from the governor to the legis­lature, and passed a bill that made lower court elec­tions partisan, a move that was widely-seen as advantaging Repub­lic­ans. A bill that recently passed in Indi­ana has also attrac­ted contro­versy. The bill elim­in­ates judi­cial elec­tions in Marion County in favor of a “merit selec­tion” system in which a commit­tee would nomin­ate judges to be appoin­ted by the governor. It has been met with fierce oppos­i­tion from black community lead­ers and lawmakers who argue it will reduce diversity on the bench and disen­fran­chise the county’s largely black and Demo­cratic voters, leav­ing the state’s Repub­lican governor with the power to make appoint­ments.   

State:              ARIZONA
Bill Info:          HCR 2030; Spon­sor: Rep. Don Shooter; Intro­duced: 2/14/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill would change the state’s current system of select­ing appel­late and super­ior court judges from appoint­ment to partisan elec­tions. It would also reduce judi­cial terms to 2 years.
Status:            The bill was held in the House Appro­pri­ations and Rules Commit­tees on 2/14/2017.

State:               ARIZONA
Bill Info:           HB 2534; Spon­sor: Rep. Don Shooter; Intro­duced: 2/14/2017
Descrip­tion:    This bill, a compan­ion to HCR2030, provides the imple­ment­ing stat­utes for partisan elec­tions.
Status:            The bill was held in the House Appro­pri­ations and Rules Commit­tees on 2/14/2017.

State:               INDI­ANA
Bill Info:           HB 1036; Spon­sor: Rep. Gregory Steuer­wald and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 1/4/2017
Descrip­tion:    The bill would end Marion County’s judi­cial elec­tions and estab­lish a Marion County judi­cial selec­tion commit­tee to recom­mend super­ior court judges to the governor for appoint­ment.
Status:             The bill passed both cham­bers and was signed into law by the governor on 4/28/2017.

State:               IOWA
Bill Info:           SF 327; Spon­sor: Sen. Julian Garrett and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 2/22/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill restruc­tures the state judi­cial nomin­at­ing commis­sion so that the governor would have the author­ity to appoint virtu­ally all voting members.
Status:             A subcom­mit­tee of the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee approved the bill on 3/1/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 4/22/2017. 

State:               MISSOURI
Bill Info:           SJR 11; Spon­sor: Sen. Dan Hege­man; Intro­duced: 1/4/2017
Descrip­tion:     This proposed consti­tu­tional amend­ment would, if approved by voters on the ballot, require judi­cial nomin­at­ing commis­sions to provide the governor with a list of all qual­i­fied candid­ates from which to select a nominee. Under current law, the nomin­at­ing commis­sion may pass along a list of only three names from which the governor may pick.
Status:             The bill, as amended, was approved by the Senate General Laws Commit­tee on 3/1/2017. It was placed on the Senate Informal Calen­dar of Bills for Perfec­tion on 5/8/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 100; Spon­sor: Rep. Justin Burr and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 2/14/2017           
Descrip­tion:     The bill restores partisan elec­tions for the selec­tion of super­ior and district court judges.
Status:             The legis­lature over­rode the governor’s veto, and the bill was passed into law on 3/23/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 240; Spon­sor: Rep. Justin Burr and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/1/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill trans­fers the governor’s author­ity to fill interim district court vacan­cies to the legis­lature.
Status:             The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate Commit­tee on Rules and Oper­a­tions on 3/14/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 241; Spon­sor: Rep. Justin Burr and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/1/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill trans­fers the governor’s author­ity to name special super­ior court judges to the legis­lature.
Status:             The bill passed the House and was sent to the Senate Commit­tee on Rules and Oper­a­tions on 3/14/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           SB 306; Spon­sor: Sen. Jeff Tarte and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 3/16/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would “subdivide Mecklen­burg County District Courts to mirror the Super­ior Court Districts.”
Status:             The bill was referred to the Senate Select Commit­tee on Elec­tions on 4/10/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 335; Spon­sor: Rep. Justin Burr and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/13/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would require the governor to fill judi­cial vacan­cies from a list of three persons recom­men­ded by the vacat­ing judge’s polit­ical party.
Status:             The bill passed the House on 4/26/2017. It was referred to the Senate Commit­tee on Rules and Oper­a­tions on 4/27/2017.

State:               NORTH DAKOTA
Bill Info:           HB 1313; Spon­sor: Rep. Jeffrey Magrum; Intro­duced: 1/16/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would remove all attor­neys and judges from the judi­cial conduct commis­sion, require all members to be active or retired milit­ary, and trans­fer commis­sion appoint­ment power from the governor to the adjut­ant general.
Status:             The bill, as amended, was rejec­ted in the House on 2/3. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 4/27/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SJR 14; Spon­sor: Sen. Nathan Dahm and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/18/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would change reten­tion elec­tions for appel­late judges such that judges would need support from 60% of voters rather than a simple major­ity to keep their seats.
Status:             The bill was approved by the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 2/7/2017. The bill received a House co-spon­sor on 2/13/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SJR 42; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/19/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would require partisan elec­tions for all appel­late courts.
Status:             The bill was approved by the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 2/7/2017. The bill received a House co-spon­sor on 3/15/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SJR 43; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/20/2017
Descrip­tion:     Under the bill, the Judi­cial Nomin­at­ing Commis­sion would no longer vet and recom­mend candid­ates to the governor for judi­cial office but would instead review candid­ates selec­ted by the governor as either “qual­i­fied” or “not qual­i­fied” before the candid­ate would go to the Senate for confirm­a­tion.
Status:             The bill passed the Senate on 3/21/2017. It was referred to the House Rules Commit­tee on 3/27/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SJR 44; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/20/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would keep the state’s merit/commis­sion selec­tion system but require the Judi­cial Nomin­at­ing Commis­sion to send the Governor 5 names (currently 3) for consid­er­a­tion and would allow the Governor to ask for another list of 5, for a total of 10 names. It would require the nominee be subject to Senate confirm­a­tion and provides that if Senate fails to act within certain time frame(s) nominee would be confirmed by default.
Status:             The bill passed the Senate on 3/21/2017. It was referred to the House Rules Commit­tee on 3/27/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SB 213; Spon­sor: Sen. Nathan Dahm and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/17/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would modify the district lines used for the selec­tion of supreme court justices. Under the new arrange­ment, one justice would be selec­ted from each of the five congres­sional districts and four justices selec­ted at large.
Status:             The bill passed the Senate. It was amended in the House Judi­ciary – Civil and Envir­on­mental Commit­tee and passed the House. The House amend­ment was rejec­ted in the Senate. The Senate reques­ted a confer­ence on 5/3/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SB 700; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/19/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would provide that all six of the attor­ney-members of the Judi­cial Nomin­at­ing Commis­sion be appoin­ted by the Pres­id­ent Pro Tempore of the Senate or the Speaker of the House of Repres­ent­at­ives.
Status:             The bill was approved by the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee 2/7/2017. The bill received a House co-spon­sor on 3/15/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SB 708; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/19/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would mandate that nomin­ees for the state’s main trial court have “exper­i­ence as lead coun­sel in a minimum of three (3) jury trials brought to verdict prior to filing for such office or appoint­ment” in addi­tion to the previ­ously iden­ti­fied required qual­i­fic­a­tions.
Status:             The bill passed the Senate on 3/21/2017. It was referred to the House Judi­ciary – Civil and Envir­on­mental Commit­tee on 3/27/2017.
 

Judi­cial Term Limits

Judi­cial term limits can be a desir­able reform that advances core values such as judi­cial inde­pend­ence and diversity on the bench. However, they can also be used to force unpop­u­lar judges off the bench, or gain partisan advant­age in the courts. In Oklahoma, a bill would require appel­late judges to retire when their years of judi­cial service plus their age equals eighty years, and would have the func­tion of forcing many of the state’s sitting appel­late judges off the bench. In Flor­ida, a proposal to set term limits for appel­late judges, which would appear on the ballot in 2018, is highly conten­tious, and has divided legis­lat­ors on party lines. The bill’s spon­sor advoc­ated for the bill saying: “Is it time to rein in the judi­ciary with a simple concept that already applies to the exec­ut­ive branch and the legis­lat­ive branch?” An oppon­ent of the bill respon­ded that the bill is an attempt to “bully” judges for their unfa­vor­able rulings.

State:               FLOR­IDA
Bill Info:           HJR 1; Spon­sor: Rep. Jennifer Sulli­van and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/7/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would prevent appel­late judges from seek­ing reten­tion after 12 consec­ut­ive years in office, which consti­tutes two terms. These judges would have to wait at least one year after leav­ing before seek­ing judi­cial office again. If approved, this meas­ure would appear as a ballot meas­ure.
Status:             The bill passed the House on 3/29/2017. It was referred to relev­ant Senate commit­tees on 4/5/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.

State:               FLOR­IDA
Bill Info:           SJR 482; Spon­sor: Sen. Travis Hutson; Intro­duced 3/7/2017           
Descrip­tion:     The bill, an amend­ment to the Flor­ida consti­tu­tion, would create a minimum age require­ment and term limits for Supreme Court Justices and judges of the district courts of appeal and require 1 year of prior service as a judge for appoint­ment as Supreme Court Justice. If approved, this amend­ment would appear as a ballot meas­ure.
Status:             The bill was referred to relev­ant Senate commit­tees on 2/9/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           SB 699; Spon­sor: Sen. Anthony Sykes and co-spon­sor; Intro­duced: 1/19/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would require all appel­late judges to retire when their years of judi­cial service, plus their age, equals eighty years.
Status:             The bill was approved by the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 2/7/2017. It received a House co-spon­sor on 3/15/2017.



Changes to Size of Courts

Over the past decade, there has been an uptick in overtly polit­ical legis­lat­ive propos­als aimed at chan­ging the number of justices on courts of last resort. Last year, lawmakers in Arizona and Geor­gia took advant­age of single-party control of the legis­lature and the governor’s mansion to pass laws to increase the size of their respect­ive state high courts. That trend has contin­ued into this session. Late last year, there were rumors that the Repub­lican-controlled North Caro­lina legis­lature planned to expand the size of the state supreme court to prevent Demo­cratic judges from taking over a major­ity for the first time in twenty years. While that proposal never mater­i­al­ized, tinker­ing with courts in North Caro­lina has contin­ued into this session, includ­ing a meas­ure that reduces the size of the court of appeals, strip­ping the governor of oppor­tun­it­ies to fill vacan­cies. And in Oklahoma, a renewed attempt to cut the size of the state high court comes after years of acri­mony between the Court and the legis­lature. 

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           HB 1699; Spon­sor: Rep. Kevin Calvey; Intro­duced: 1/19/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would reduce the members on the state Supreme Court from nine to five.
Status:             The bill was referred to the House Judi­ciary – Civil and Envir­on­mental Commit­tee on 2/7/2017.

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 239; Rep. Justin Burr and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/1/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill reduces the North Caro­lina Court of Appeals from 15 members to12 members.
Status:             The legis­lature over­rode the governor’s veto, and the bill was passed into law on 4/26/2017.

 

Constraints on Courts’ Control of their Rules, Docket, or Courtroom, or Politi­ciz­ing Judi­cial Discip­line

Several states are consid­er­ing bills that would give state legis­latures more control over court rules and proced­ures, or impose new report­ing require­ments. While less prob­lem­atic than efforts to change court struc­tures or limit judi­cial review, such meas­ures can raise concerns about the separ­a­tion of powers between the courts and the polit­ical branches of govern­ment. More gener­ally, they are another example of how state legis­latures are seek­ing to limit courts’ autonomy. Another troub­ling devel­op­ment is efforts to give polit­ical actors greater power over judi­cial discip­line. In Geor­gia, a new law grants the legis­lature and governor greater control over the struc­ture, member­ship, and activ­it­ies of the body respons­ible for discip­lin­ing and remov­ing judges.

State:               ARKAN­SAS
Bill Info:           SJR 8; Spon­sor: Sen. Missy Irvin and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 2/2/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill puts a consti­tu­tional amend­ment on the ballot giving the legis­lature the abil­ity, by a three-fifths vote, to amend or repeal “a rule of plead­ing, prac­tice, or proced­ure prescribed by the state Supreme Court,” or to adopt “on its own initi­at­ive a rule of plead­ing, prac­tice, or proced­ure.”
Status:             The bill passed both cham­bers of the legis­lature and will appear on the ballot in 2018.

State:               GEOR­GIA
Bill Info:           HB 126; Spon­sor: Rep. Wendell Willard and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 1/25/2017
Descrip­tion:    Last year, a ballot meas­ure amended the state consti­tu­tion to replace the state’s Judi­cial Qual­i­fic­a­tions Commis­sion, which is respons­ible for discip­line and removal of judges, with one designed and governed by the General Assembly.  The bill recon­sti­t­utes the Judi­cial Qual­i­fic­a­tions Commis­sion, with members appoin­ted by the Supreme Court, governor, pres­id­ent of the senate, and speaker of the house.
Status:             The bill passed both cham­bers of the legis­lature and was signed into law by the governor on 4/5/2017.

State:               ILLINOIS
Bill Info:           HB 3054; Spon­sor: Rep. William Davis and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 2/9/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill, as intro­duced, would require every circuit judge to “announce that a person can file a complaint against him or her, prior to call­ing the first case of the day.” Addi­tion­ally, the clerk must post within every courtroom a notice instruct­ing the public that complaints may be filed and must make avail­able instruc­tions for filing a complaint. As amended, the bill reduced the require­ments to a need for clerks to post notice of the right to file a complaint in common areas of the court­house.
Status:             The bill, as amended, passed the House on 4/7/2017. The bill was referred to the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 5/2/2017.

State:               FLOR­IDA
Bill Info:           HB 301; Spon­sor: Rep. Frank White and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 3/7/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would require the Supreme Court to provide a detailed explan­a­tion to the governor and legis­lature for all cases “for which a decision or dispos­i­tion has not been rendered within 180 days after oral argu­ment was heard or after the date on which the case was submit­ted to the court panel for a decision without oral argu­ment when a case goes longer than 180 days.”
Status:             The bill passed the House on 3/10/2017. It was amended and passed the Senate on 5/1/2017. It was then returned to the House. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.  

State:               NORTH CARO­LINA
Bill Info:           HB 677; Spon­sor: Rep. Sarah Stevens; Intro­duced: 4/10/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would permit district court judges to be appoin­ted to a three-judge panel determ­in­ing the valid­ity of acts “appor­tion­ing or redis­trict­ing State legis­lat­ive or congres­sional districts” or the valid­ity of claims “chal­len­ging the facial valid­ity of an act of the General Assembly.” Under the current law, 3-judge panels include only super­ior court judges, not district court judges.
Status:             The bill passed the House on 4/20/2017. It was referred to the Senate Commit­tee on Rules and Oper­a­tions on 4/21/2017.

State:               WEST VIRGINIA
Bill Info:           HB 2685; Spon­sor: Del. Kelli Sobonya and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 2/23/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would require every circuit clerk, “no less than every quarter of the year, submit a report to the Supreme Court of Appeals, the Legis­lature and the Governor, list­ing all pending cases which have exceeded the time stand­ards for trial courts as estab­lished by rules of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals.”
Status:             The bill was referred to the House Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 2/23/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 4/11/2017.
 

Fire­arms in Courtrooms

Courts have also been pulled into broader debates about gun rights in public spaces. At least three states considered bills this term that would make it easier to bring guns into court­houses or courtrooms.

State:               FLOR­IDA
Bill Info:           HB 803; Spon­sor: Rep. Don Hahn­feldt; Intro­duced: 3/7/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would remove the prohib­i­tion against carry­ing a weapon into a court­house or courtroom (among other places).
Status:             The bill was referred to the relev­ant house commit­tees on 2/23/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017. 

State:               ARKAN­SAS
Bill Info:           SB 660; Spon­sor: Sen. Linda Collins-Smith; Intro­duced: 3/6/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would remove a provi­sion making it a felony to possess a fire­arm in a courtroom.
Status:             The bill was referred to the Senate Judi­ciary Commit­tee on 3/6/2017. The legis­lat­ive session ended on 5/5/2017.

State:               OKLAHOMA
Bill Info:           HB 1104; Spon­sor: Rep. Bobby Clev­e­land and co-spon­sors; Intro­duced: 1/11/2017
Descrip­tion:     The bill would allow elec­ted offi­cials in posses­sion of a valid hand­gun license to carry a concealed fire­arm “when acting in the perform­ance of their duties within the court­houses of county in which he or she was elec­ted.” They would not be allowed to carry the hand­gun into a courtroom.
Status:             The bill passed both cham­bers of the legis­lature and was signed into law by the governor on 5/2/2017.