The judiciary is an important, but often overlooked branch of Arizona state government. In particular, the Arizona Supreme Court has a profound effect on citizens' exercise of basic constitutional liberties through decisions that typically elicit little public scrutiny.
The framers of the Arizona Constitution recognized that an independent judiciary was an important institution in a free society governed by the rule of law. But the framers also had a healthy distrust of authority, illustrated by the inclusion of a provision in the original Arizona Constitution to allow the recall of judges. They believed that a citizenry informed about its courts would be an important bulwark against a runaway judicial system that does injury to individual liberty, the rule of law and the state constitution.
Constitutional changes in 1974 provided for the selection of supreme court justices based on merit, but still allowed Arizona voters to act as a check on the highest court. Every six years, voters have an opportunity to determine whether a state supreme court justice should be retained.
Voters, however, lack credible, clear information on the Arizona Supreme Court's recent performance, and consequently, many may feel ill-equipped to make informed decisions on judicial retention. For example, Arizonans may not have seen analysis of court decisions removing an initiative challenge to the Arizona Clean Elections system and declining jurisdiction in a case involving the governor's use of the line-item veto to increase appropriations.
This report seeks to remedy that lack of information by offering a review of the Arizona Supreme Court's recent performance, with the aim of understanding the effect of recent court decisions in two specific areas: the fidelity of the court to the constitutional powers granted to it, other branches of state government, and the people of Arizona, and the court's protection of the peoples' constitutional rights. The review finds that the justices have performed admirably in preserving constitutional rights, but have too often usurped legislative powers and superseded the constitutional powers granted the supreme court.