The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to decide whether the state of Delaware’s system of requiring ideologically balanced courts is lawful.
The nine justices will hear the state’s appeal of an April ruling by the Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in favor of challenger James Adams.
Adams, who wants to apply to be a judge, claims that his right to free association under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was violated by the restrictions, which stipulate that no more than half of the judges on certain benches can be affiliated with one political party.
Adams, who is not a Republican or a Democrat, concluded that he could not apply to an advertised position because it required the candidate to be a Republican. In effect, only Republicans or Democrats can become judges in Delaware, Adams’ lawyers say.
Delaware courts play an outsized role in judicial matters in the United States, having a good reputation within the business community for resolving corporate disputes.
The law requires that no more than half of the judges on the state Supreme Court, the Court of Chancery – which hears shareholder disputes – and the Superior Court can be affiliated with one particular political party.
It also requires that Delaware judges have to be affiliated with one of the two major political parties in the state. Since 1978, the governor appoints judges recommended by judicial nominating commissions.
Adams says the Delaware law violates the First Amendment based on Supreme Court precedents that say the government cannot take party affiliation into account when hiring people.
In court papers, Delaware Governor John Carney, a Democrat, argues that judges are effectively policymakers and therefore the governor can take their political affiliations into account when hiring them.
The Supreme Court will issue a ruling by the end of June.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)
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