Gov. Doug Ducey is getting his first chance to put his imprint on the state’s high court.
A dozen attorneys and lower court judges have applied to replace Rebecca Berch who is retiring. The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments will meet later this month to winnow down the list and decide who to interview and, ultimately, who to nominate.
Press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey does have some ideas about who should serve on the Supreme Court.
“Some of the qualities that are important to the governor are an individual with a reputation with outstanding legal ability, someone with integrity and also the temperament for a job where you need to be calm under pressure and be thorough and be thoughtful,” he said. He also said Ducey said he wants someone who “treats people with respect,” whether as an attorney working with clients or lower court judge dealing with litigants.
And Scarpinato said Ducey believes it’s important for to appoint someone “that understands the three distinct branches and the separation of powers.”
He said, though, the governor has no “litmus test” for Supreme Court applicants like their views on controversial subjects like abortion or the death penalty.
The commission ultimately will send Ducey a list which will contain at least three names from which he must choose. By law, the nominees cannot be all of the same party.
Scarpinato said, though, it’s not a foregone conclusion that his boss will choose someone who, like he, is a Republican. He pointed out that Ducey has named not only Republicans but also Democrats and political independents to fill vacancies on the Maricopa County Superior Court bench.
But history shows that when it comes to the state’s highest court, governors have pretty much stayed within the party. And that means the three Democrat applicants and one political independent who applied — at least one of whom will see his name going to the governor — could end up being an also-ran.
If Ducey chooses to go outside the GOP, there is a precedent.
In 1998, Republican Gov. Jane Hull chose Democrat Ruth McGregor, marking the first — and only — time since 1974 when the current system of choosing most judges in Arizona was approved that a governor has crossed party lines for the Supreme Court. McGregor waschosen over four other nominees, including two Republicans, another Democrat and an independent.
Hull acknowledged the precedent she was breaking — and the potential for political heat from party faithful.
“I would hope the Republican Party would support the fact I have made the best decision for the state,” Hull said. She said party affiliation is less important than attitude, saying that McGregor “shares my concern about too activist a court.”
But McGregor had something else that gave Hull political cover: the strong backing of then-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor who was a Hull acquaintance and was once a Republican Arizona state legislator. McGregor had served as O’Connor’s first clerk after Ronald Reagan tapped her as the first woman ever to serve on the nation’s high court.
The commission is taking comments on the nominees, either by mail to 1501 W. Washington St., Phoenix 85007, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The applicants are:
- Clint Bolick, 57, from Maricopa County, an attorney with the Goldwater Institute. He has been a political independent since 2003 but prior to that was registered as a Republican;
- Michael Brown, 50, a Democrat from Navajo County who currently sits on the state Court of Appeals;
- Bradley Carlyon, 55, the Navajo County attorney. A Republican until 2007 he now is a Democrat;
- Kent Cattani, 58, of Maricopa County, an appellate court judge and a Republican;
- Daisy Flores, 44, a Republican since 2001 but Democrat before that, she served 10 years as Gila County attorney before going in to private practice in Globe;
- Andrew Gould, 51, a Republican and former Yuma County Superior Court judge who now serves on the Court of Appeals;
- Kenneth Moyer, 56, who served on the appellate court between 1989 and 1992 and now has a law practice in Lake Havasu City, who was a Republican from 1978 to 1994, then a Democrat until 2001 and now is a Republican again;
- Maurice Portley, 61, a Democrat from Maricopa County who sits on the Court of Appeals;
- Thomas Schoaf, 64, mayor of Litchfield Park who also has a private law practice, a Democrat for eight years before becoming a Republican in 1980;
- Timothy Thomason, 56, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge and a Republican;
- Samuel Thumma, 53, an appellate court judge, resident of Maricopa County, and Republican;
- Lawrence Winthrop, 63, a Maricopa County Democrat for 20 years before becoming a Republican in 1991 who sits on the Court of Appeals.