List of Final Five Nominees for Arizona Supreme Court Passed to Gov. Ducey
A commission appointed to interview and recommend nominees for the vacancy on the Arizona Supreme Court has reached a final list of five nominees. The list has now been passed along to Gov. Doug Ducey. The final list reflects months of work for the commission tasked with the job, including some controversy over one name that the list doesn’t include – that of Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery.
How Supreme Court Justices Are Selected in Arizona
The search began in December 2018, when Arizona Supreme Court Justice John Pelander announced he would be retiring from the bench on March 1, 2019. The retirement provides the fourth vacancy that Gov. Ducey will be filling on the seven-member Supreme Court bench during his time as governor. When making a nomination to the bench, the governor chooses among a list of candidates that have first been vetted by the state Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. This commission interviews all nominees, analyzes their experience in the legal profession, and considers the personal and professional references offered in support of each individual. The commission then winnows the list of nominees—in this case, totaling 11—down to five, from which the governor has 60 days to make his selection.
Controversial Nominee Not Advanced to Final List
Criticism of a nominee’s professional record isn’t unheard of, but the commission had their work cut out for them when considering Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery. In order to manage the volumes of criticism of Montgomery’s nomination, the commission divided it into separate categories. In turn, the commission discussed: Montgomery’s ability to be impartial, based on strongly-held beliefs on issues such as sentencing reform and LGBT rights that he has aired publicly; claims that misconduct in his office has gone uncorrected; Montgomery’s lack of experience in areas of the law that would be critical to his work as a justice; and whether Montgomery’s outspokenness might make him more well-suited to elected office rather than as a justice. Montgomery responded to the criticism, but apparently not to the satisfaction of the majority of the commission. He received passing votes from only five of the 12 commission members and thus did not make the final list of nominees.
The five nominees who have now been passed to Gov. Ducey include Maria Elena Cruz, a democrat who would become the first black and Latina Supreme Court justice as well as only the second woman currently on the bench; James Beene, a republican Arizona Court of Appeals judge; Kent Cattani, a republican Arizona Court of Appeals judge; Andrew Jacobs, a democrat and partner at Snell & Willmer, LLP; and Richard Gordon, a republican Pima County Superior Court judge.