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Federal appeals court rules against Delaware judicial balance requirements

Delaware Public Media

A federal appeals court has ruled against a Delaware law requiring political balance among judges on First State courts.

The Delaware constitution requires judgeships on some courts be split almost evenly between the two major political parties.


A 2017 District Court ruling found that requirement unconstitutional. The Third Circuit Court opinion filed Tuesday upholds the District Court's decision for the state Supreme Court, Chancery Court and Superior Court.

Delaware lawyer James Adams challenged the law in early 2017. Adams is a political independent — and argued the rule effectively limits service on state courts to Democrats and Republicans.

“You cannot discriminate in public employment based on political affiliation," said Adams’s lawyer, David Finger. "But there’s an exception for those who help the executive, be that the president, or governor, or mayor, implement policy."


Tuesday’s Third Circuit opinion reasoned that judges are not policymakers, as the defense had argued. Finger sees the ruling as good news.

“It opens the door for lawyers who are not members of major political parties to be eligible for judgeships,” said Finger. “It makes available to a governor a wider range of potential candidates for judgeships.”

Gov. John Carney is the defendant in the case. A spokesperson for the Governor’s office says it is still reviewing the opinion — and has not said whether it plans to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

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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