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Plaintiff's lawyer sees 'opportunity' in U.S. Supreme Court taking up judicial balance challenge

Delaware Public Media

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review a lower court’s decision that Delaware’s judicial balance requirement violates the federal constitution.


Delaware’s constitution calls for the state Supreme Court, Chancery Court and Superior Court to be split almost evenly between the two major political parties. But both a U.S. District Court and a federal appeals court have ruled the provision unconstitutional — after Delaware lawyer James Adams challenged it in 2017. 

Adams’ lawyer, David Finger, says he is surprised that the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up the case, but sees it as a “wonderful opportunity.”

In addition to reviewing the previous rulings, the parties involved are being asked to argue whether Adams has standing to bring a lawsuit in federal court. Finger says he does. 

“He suffered injury, and the injury is specific to him,” said Finger. “They have to show that the constitutional violation created the injury, which is clearly connected here. His First Amendment rights have been restricted by virtue of the Delaware constitutional provision.”

Adams is a political independent. He argues the law effectively limits service on state courts to Democrats and Republicans, hurting his chances of becoming a judge in Delaware.

Finger says a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court could redress the injury. “If the Court were to affirm and hold the provision of the Delaware Constitution in violation of the First Amendment, then he would have a remedy— he would now be allowed to apply for positions he was previously unable to apply for.”

Gov. John Carney argues that doing away with the judicial balance agreement could jeopardize the Delaware courts’ reputation for objectivity. The state also argues that judges are policymakers and therefore can be appointed by political party.

Carney said in a recent statement he believes it is “more important than ever to protect Delaware’s appointment process from the partisan infighting that has come to characterize the federal appointment process."

Several former Delaware governors backed Carney’s effort to appeal the ruling—  and the state’s arguments.


Sophia Schmidt is a Delaware native. She comes to Delaware Public Media from NPR’s Weekend Edition in Washington, DC, where she produced arts, politics, science and culture interviews. She previously wrote about education and environment for The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. She graduated from Williams College, where she studied environmental policy and biology, and covered environmental events and local renewable energy for the college paper.
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