Supreme Court to decide if state can consider political affiliation in judicial appointments
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Supreme Court to decide if state can consider political affiliation in judicial appointments

The US Supreme Court issued an order on Friday granting certiorari to a new case for their current term. Carney v. Adams challenges the constitutionality of a Delaware law limiting the appointment of judges based on their political affiliation in order to achieve balance on the court.

Within Delaware’s Constitution, the Article IV, Section 3 provision prohibits judges affiliated with any one political party to constitute more than a “bare majority” on all of the state’s courts. For the higher courts, seats are balanced based on “major political party.” The law attempts to establish a balance between political ideologies on each court but is accused of omitting smaller political parties. As a result, the provision in its entirety has been challenged as a violation of a person’s First Amendment right to freedom of association.

The plaintiff in this case, James Adams, is a retired lawyer seeking a judicial position. Adams is a registered Independent. When attempting to apply for a judicial position in 2014, Adams found he was unable to apply as both the Superior and Supreme Courts were comprised of a bare majority of Democrats; making the only positions available open to Republicans. He attempted to reapply in 2017, but again the positions were only open to Republicans.

In his original lawsuit, the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware determined that while Adams only had standing to challenge some of the provision’s sections, a ruling on the merits rendered the entire provision unconstitutional. On appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld the first three sections of the provision to be unconstitutional — the sections with language demanding a “major political party” — but reversed the District Court’s decision regarding the others due to Adams lack of standing.

The Supreme Court has asked each party to address both the First Amendment issue as well as the standing question.