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Why the Arizona Supreme Court matters

Posted at 5:44 PM, Sep 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-09-04 20:48:58-04

PHOENIX — The Supreme Court is a term that nearly every American is familiar with. It is the top most court in the country that has the final say in what laws are constitutional or not.

The decisions made there can have far reaching and lasting consequences on the direction of our country. A recent example of this is the 2015 case of Obergefell v. Hodges in which the Supreme court decided that all states would be required to recognize and perform marriages for same sex couples.

What many may not know is that before gay marriage was heard by the Supreme Court it was heard by several state Supreme Courts. These courts function similarly to the US Supreme Court, but deal exclusively with final say in state laws. Cases heard in the Arizona Supreme court, for example, can have just as far reaching implications for Arizona residents as those cases heard at the US Supreme Court.

What is the AZ Supreme Court

The Arizona Supreme Court is made of seven individual justices that are appointed by the Governor. They may not hold any other offices in the state and they must retire by the age of 70. The current Arizona Supreme Court is made up of two justices appointed by Governor Jan Brewer and five appointed by Governor Doug Ducey.

Deciding on what follows State law

The Arizona Supreme Court is the final say on rules, ordinances, and laws on the books at all levels of government inside the boundaries of the state. If they believe that an ordinance passed by a city conflicts with state law, they have the ability to overturn that ordinance. In 2017 the city of Tucson wanted to destroy confiscated guns but the Arizona Supreme Court overturned this because state law requires them to be sold.

What makes the Ballot

Arizona is one of many US States to have a form of direct democracy built into its constitution that allows for the citizens to bypass the legislature and refer laws directly to the ballot for popular vote. On the 2018 general election ballot, voters were asked to vote on two of these types of ballot initiatives, one that passed (Proposition 126) and one that failed (Proposition 127).

The process of getting a proposition on the ballot is one that is subject to legal review at nearly every step.

Marijuana Legalization

The 2020 General election will see another serious attempt at legalizing marijuana possession and use in Arizona. The committee behind the proposal has filed paperwork with the Secretary of State’s office that allows it to collect signatures from registered voters around the state. The committee will need to collect over two hundred and forty thousand signatures just to make the minimum number required to get on the ballot. Once the signatures have been submitted to the Secretary of State in July of next year, they will most certainly be challenged by groups that opposes marijuana legalization.

The challengers will go through the signatures page by page finding any and all signatures that are either questionable, or do not belong to a registered voter in Arizona. If they believe they have found enough bad signatures to bring the total amount of signatures below the minimum required they will file a legal challenge that in some cases will end up going all the way to the state supreme court.

It’s not only the signatures themselves that can be challenged however. Marijuana opponents would be able to challenge the proposal on the language presented on the petition gathering sheet as well. This occurred in 2018 when the state Supreme court, in a vote of 5-2 knocked a tax increase proposal by Invest in Ed off the ballot because of the wording presented to registered voters on the petition sheet.

Do Arizona Voters have a Say on Who Sits on the Supreme Court?

The short answer is Yes. Arizonans are asked whether or not to retain a supreme court justices on the next regularly scheduled statewide general election two years after their appointment by the governor. In the case of Bill Montgomery, this will be November of 2022. If Arizona voters vote to retain the justice, they serve a full six year term until their next retention election. Justices are not term limited until they are constitutionally required to retire at the age of 70.