Delaware Public Media

Federal appeals court reinforces ruling against Delaware judicial balance requirement

Apr 10, 2019

A federal appeals court reinforced its ruling striking down a requirement for political balance among judges on some First State courts.

 


In Delaware, judgeships on some courts must be split almost evenly between the two major political parties. A 2017 ruling by the District Court for the District of Delaware and a ruling in February by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals found that requirement unconstitutional.

At the State of Delaware’s request, the appeals court agreed to rehear part of the case. It filed a revised opinion Wednesday clarifying that its ruling applies to both portions of the judicial balance rule in question.  

The rule consists of two parts— a provision requiring that judges belong to one of the two major political parties, and another limiting a party to a bare majority of judges on a court.

“The court said, well in any event, we can’t separate them because both provisions were necessary to achieve the result that the people who wrote this law wanted,” said David Finger, the plaintiff’s lawyer. “We can’t separate them out, so it all goes.”

Finger represents Delaware lawyer James Adams, who challenged the law in early 2017. The political independent argued the law effectively limits service on state courts to Democrats and Republicans—and hurts his chances of becoming a judge in Delaware.

Governor Carney’s office countered that judges are policymakers and therefore can be appointed by political party. The Third Circuit Court of Appeals reasoned in February that judges are not policymakers.  

Finger says his client is happy with the revised opinion. “He’s pleased with the outcome, and hopefully this will put an end to the debate,” said Finger. “We believe it will only lead to increase the quality of judges.”

The state has the option of petitioning the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case.

A spokesperson for the Governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.