U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court agrees to hear challenge to Delaware requirement for political balance on top courts

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The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to a Delaware constitutional provision requiring balance between Republicans and Democrats on the state’s top courts.

The court granted cert Friday and asked the parties to consider whether the plaintiff, retired lawyer James Adams, has standing to sue, SCOTUSblog reports. Adams says applying for a judgeship in the state would be futile because he is an independent who is neither Republican nor Democrat.

Adams won in the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Philadelphia, which ruled that the restriction violated his First Amendment right to associate with the party of his choice.

The Delaware constitutional provision provides that, when there are an even number of judges on a court, no more than half the seats may be held by one political party. When there is an odd number of judges, no more than a bare majority of seats may be held by members one political party.

A related provision allows only judges from the two major political parties to serve on the state supreme court, superior courts and chancery courts—the state’s three top courts.

Delaware’s governor selects judges from a list provided by a judicial nominating commission.

In his brief opposing certiorari, Adams says the Delaware system is unique. “No other state excludes minority parties from appointment as judges,” the brief says. “No other state requires political balance on their courts.”

The case is Carney v. Adams. The cert petition is here, and the SCOTUSblog case page is here.

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