The state Senate Judiciary Committee voted along partisan lines to hold Gov. Katie Hobbs’ nominee to the Commission on Trial Court Appointments for Maricopa County after questioning veered into controversial topics like the transgender sports debate and the political affiliation of judicial nominees.
Hobbs nominated former Phoenix City Attorney Brad Holm to serve on the commission, which combs through applicants seeking appointment to the Maricopa County Superior Court bench before forwarding recommendations to the governor, who makes the appointment.
Holm, an attorney for 41 years, said his extensive courtroom experience would make him an asset on the commission. “So I think what I bring to this experience is the ability to recognize at the appointment level before they’re appointed, whether a judge has the intellectual capacity, the integrity, the ethical values, and the desire to follow the law,” he said.
The committee’s line of questioning started out with relatively innocuous topics, including what criteria Holm, who has served on the commission since the end of January, uses when evaluating candidates. He said that vetting focuses on a candidate’s merit by looking at their legal training, professional experience, job history, feedback from judges and opposing counsel and community involvement.
Holm, a Democrat, said the political question the commission considers is the one required by the Arizona Constitution, which holds that no more than 60% of nominees can be from the same party.
About halfway through the hearing, Republicans questioned Holm about more controversial topics. Senator Wendy Rogers, R-Flagstaff, asked him his opinion about what, if any, Title 9 protections should be afforded transgender girls who want to play girls sports.
Senator Anthony Kern, R-Glendale, then asked, “do you think that transgendered men should not play in women’s sports?”
Senators Christine Marsh, D-Phoenix, and Anna Hernandez, D-Phoenix, both objected to the line of questioning, arguing the “political” nature of the questions were inappropriate since Holm said it was not a part of his decision-making criteria.
“I don’t think…their personal opinion matters since it has nothing to do with the actual nomination process, like their personal opinion is not a question on the application, to be a trial judge,” Hernandez said.
Kern disagreed. “I do think it’s political, because of the nature of the judiciary at this point…I do think that is relevant,” he said.
After again reiterating that political questions do not factor into his consideration of judicial applicants, Holm eventually stated, “I don’t know about labels; I just don’t think that biological males should be playing women’s sports.”
The political affiliation of nominees submitted by the Commission on Trial Court Appointments also came under fire from Republicans on the judiciary committee.
Senator Justine Wadsack, R-Tucson, brought up an issue after Holm said the commission recently submitted a slate of nominees to Hobbs that included four Democrats, three independents and one Republican.
Holm noted the vast majority of applications to the commission recently have come from Democrats.
It’s not unusual for judicial applications to skew in favor of the governor’s party and, in the past, commissioners said they had to create shorter lists, extend deadlines and seek out potential applicants from the opposing party to meet constitutional requirements.
“They think twice about going through the application process,” Doug Cole, chief operating officer of HighGround and former commissioner said earlier this year. “I’m a registered Republican or I’m a registered independent. New governor’s only going to appoint members of her own party, so why go through the headache?”
But Kern cited the makeup of the recent spate of nominees sent to the governor after making the motion to hold Holm’s nomination, though he didn’t directly answer whether he was concerned over the past several years when the commission regularly sent Republican-heavy nominee lists to former Gov. Doug Ducey.
“I want to find out what kind of judges they are sending up to the governor, and it does concern me that they sent four Democrats, one Republican, three independents,” Kern said.
A spokesman for Hobbs did not respond to a request for comment.
The list of existing applicants for vacancies in Maricopa County Superior Court posted on the Arizona Judicial Branch’s public website appears to back Holm’s claim, though. There are currently eight applicants – five Democrats, three independents and no Republicans – for two vacancies in Maricopa County
After the meeting, Kern said he also had concerns about some of Holm’s answers and social media posts he recently found out about that he wants to “dig in to,” though he did not share specifics about those concerns.
Holm’s Twitter account is set to private. In his profile bio, he describes himself as a “Democrat” and “politically clear-eyed” and also uses the hashtags #bluecrew and #resister.
“It’s not saying we’re going to approve or deny; it just says we’re going to hold it,” Kern said.
But Hernandez, a Democrat on the committee, said there was no justification for holding the nomination.
“There is no legitimate reason to hold that nomination other than political theater that we see quite often,” she said.
Arizona Capitol Times reporter Kiera Riley contributed to this report.e