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Republicans are fine with court-packing as long as they're the ones doing it

Arizona’s Republican governor just packed that state’s Supreme Court with ultra-conservatives, including a friend of Joe Arpaio.

By Lisa Needham - September 06, 2019
Doug Ducey

The governor of Arizona just succeeded in his long-range plan to pack the state supreme court with conservatives.

Republican Gov. Doug Ducey is exactly the type of person you’d expect to upend the court and fill it with like-minded extremists. Ducey’s happy with confederate monuments in his state, regardless of the fact his state wasn’t  even officially part of the U.S. during the Civil War. He hates Obamacare.

And now, with his latest addition to the court, ultra-reactionary Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, he has what the Phoenix New Times called “something close to his dream court of conservatives.”

Arizona is supposed to have guardrails against what Ducey pulled off here, but he engaged in a long and careful process to drive right through those guardrails. As Mark Joseph Stern explained in Slate, Ducey started this project years ago. In 2016, he packed the court, adding two justices who were, of course, ultra-conservative.

Next, he manipulated the state’s non-partisan judicial nominating commission. That commission is supposed to reflect “the diversity of Arizona’s population” and therefore have Democrats, Republicans, and independents. However, Ducey got rid of several Democrats on the non-partisan judicial nominating commission and replaced them with “independents” who were actually Republicans — and now there are no Democrats on the commission.

Then, when a justice retired, the now-GOP-captured commission was happy to recommend Montgomery, even though he’d previously been deemed not qualified.

Make no mistake: Montgomery is awful, even by GOP standards. He told his staff not to help with same-sex adoptions. He hypes a nonexistent “Muslim threat.” He blocks criminal justice reform. He’ll bring those retrograde views to the Arizona Supreme Court bench. Perhaps worst of all, Montgomery is also a staunch defender and ally of disgraced former Maricopa Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

The GOP expressed consternation when Democrats suggested the Supreme Court might need to be “restructured in order to reduce the influence of politics” All GOP members of the Senate went as far as to write an unprecedented letter to the Court assuring the Court they would resist this “assault” on the judiciary. They don’t seem to have any similar worries about Ducey doing this on the state level.

Ducey’s actions are also well in keeping with the general sentiment of state-level Republicans: trash the norms of government and take what you want. That’s what happened in Michigan when a lame-duck GOP legislature tried to limit ballot initiatives and strip the incoming Democratic attorney general of power. It’s what happened in Wisconsin when the GOP-dominated legislature took a significant bite out of the powers of the governor after a Democrat toppled Scott Walker.

To the GOP, elections don’t matter. Fairness doesn’t matter. Non-partisan commissions don’t matter. What matters is keeping power at any costs and forcing conservative views on states where the populace doesn’t share those views. That’s what Ducey did here, and he got away with it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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