The state’s two newest justices of the Arizona Supreme Court were sworn in Monday as Gov. Doug Ducey, who picked them, said they will “follow the rule of law.”
Ducey said Court of Appeals Judge Andrew Gould and Solicitor General John Lopez IV “are exactly the types of justices I want to see on our state’s highest court.” He said they “will apply the statutes and Constitution as written, who understand that a judge’s role is to interpret the laws, not make them.”
And he said that philosophy is not political.
“I don’t think that that’s far right and conservative,” the governor said after the ceremony.
“What it is is complete respect for the judicial branch versus the legislative branch,” Ducey explained. “We let our legislators make the laws, we let our governors execute the laws and we let our justices interpret the laws.”
But Ducey, who now has three of his picks on the high court, said his decision to sign legislation expanding it to seven — and giving him these two new picks — was not political.
“We have not packed the court,” the governor said even though both new justices are Republicans like Ducey and the five sitting justices said earlier this year the expansion is not merited. “We have right-sized the court.”
It was the Republican-controlled legislature that voted to expand the court to seven. Chief Justice Scott Bales, speaking for himself and his colleagues at the time, disputed arguments by proponents who said the court’s workload demands the additional justices.
Despite that, on Monday, Bales, the lone Democrat on the high court, praised his new associates.
He cited Gould’s experience as a deputy Yuma County attorney and then as a Yuma County Superior Court judge and currently on the state Court of Appeals. And he said Gould is also a friend.
Bales said Lopez took “the perfect career path” to the Supreme Court, starting as a law clerk for the high court, as a federal prosecutor and currently as solicitor general. That is the position in the attorney general’s office responsible for representing the state in lawsuits.
Ducey did not get to pick just anyone he wanted.
A 1974 state constitutional amendment sets up a “merit selection” process for judges of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the three largest counties. Would-be judges are screened by special panels who make nominations to the governor who has to choose from that list.
Bales, who chairs the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, said the hearings and interviews of the candidates showed both Gould and Lopez “each enjoy a breadth of support from people across the state, from people who come from very different perspectives, from people who, in some instances, might have been opposing counsel or might have appeared before them as litigants.”
While Bales opposed the expansion, he acknowledged that when the Supreme Court was built a quarter-century ago it was actually designed for seven justices.
“I guess if you build it, they will come — eventually,” he quipped after the ceremony.