PHOENIX-A report card released today by the Goldwater Institute gives the Arizona Supreme Court high marks for defending constitutional rights, but shows that the court has overstepped its constitutional powers in several significant cases.
In recent rulings, the court has usurped legislative powers and failed to restrain executive powers, undermining the system of checks and balances that is key to maintaining the rule of law. The court's ruling in Clean Elections Institute v. Jan Brewer broke with precedent to remove a voter-approved initiative from the ballot. In Bennett v. Napolitano, the court allowed the governor to add budget appropriations, a power the constitution grants only to the legislature.
However, the Goldwater Institute analysis also shows the court has consistently upheld individual rights. For instance, in Maretick v. Jarrett, prosecutors interfered with the grand jury process to prevent the jury from hearing all pertinent evidence. The court upheld the constitutional right of due process by ruling that the defendant was entitled to a new grand jury hearing with complete evidence.
The court's overstepping of its constitutional powers may help explain why the state legislature is considering several proposals to change the system of judicial selection, while the court's upholding of constitutional rights may partially explain the lack of voter participation in judicial retention elections.
Study author and director of the Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Government, Mark Brnovich, noted that lack of voter participation is also likely due to lack of information about the judiciary. "This report gives voters the information they need to make informed decisions in judicial retention elections. And that information gives them the power to be an effective check on the judiciary, ensuring that our judges are protecting, not threatening, our constitutional government."
The report, Judging the Justices: A Review of the Arizona Supreme Court, 2003-2004, is available online here.
Andrea Woodmansee, Director of Communications, Goldwater Institute, (602) 712-1257 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark Brnovich, J.D., Director, Goldwater Institute Center for Constitutional Government, (602) 462-5000, email@example.com