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Alabama’s Constitutional Amendments Two and Three: Judicial changes

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Alabama Constitutional Amendments Two and Three revolve around the state’s judicial system: Who helps run the courts, who investigates and when new judges would face the voters.

A ‘Yes’ vote on Amendment Two would change who has the authority to hire the administrative director of courts.

Proposed by Act No. 2019-187 (Senate Bill 216, 2019 Regular Legislative Session)
Bill Sponsor: Senator Orr
Cosponsor: Senator Ward

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to increase the membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the membership of the Court of the Judiciary and further provide for the appointment of the additional members; further provide for the process of disqualifying an active judge; repeal provisions providing for the impeachment of Supreme Court Justices and appellate judges and the removal for cause of the judges of the district and circuit courts, judges of the probate courts, and judges of certain other courts by the Supreme Court; delete the authority of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court to appoint an Administrative Director Courts; provide the Supreme Court of Alabama with authority to appoint an Administrative Director of Courts; require the Legislature to establish procedures for the appointment of the Administrative Director of Courts; delete the requirement that a district court hold court in each incorporated municipality with a population of 1,000 or more where there is no municipal court; provide that the procedure for the filling of vacancies in the office of a judge may be changed by local constitutional amendment; delete certain language relating to the position of constable holding more than one state office; delete a provision providing for the temporary maintenance of the prior judicial system; repeal the office of circuit solicitor; and make certain nonsubstantive stylistic changes. 

Proposed by Act 2019-187.

This description shall be followed by the following language: “Yes ( ) No ( ).”

Currently, hiring the administrative director of courts is the responsibility of the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.

Senator Arthur Orr sponsors the amendment and said its necessary to limit turnover in the position.

“Every time a new chief justice comes in, we get a new person. And we’ve had lots of new chief justices in the last 20 years,” he explained. “So this would give some continuity to that position, because we’ve seen just a lot of like I said, turnover. Almost just a revolving door when it comes to the chief operating officer of the court system. It’s a very important role.”

If approved, Amendment Two would transfer hiring power to the entire supreme court, instead of solely the Chief Justice.

This amendment proposes six changes to the state’s judicial system. In summary, this amendment:

  • Provides that county district courts do not have to hold city court in a city with a population of less than 1,000
  • Allows the Alabama Supreme Court, rather than the Chief Justice, to appoint the Administrative Director of Courts
  • Increases from 9 to 11 the total membership of the Judicial Inquiry Commission and determines who appoints each member (the Judicial Inquiry Commission evaluates ethics complaints filed against judges)
  • Allows the Governor, rather than the Lieutenant Governor, to appoint a member of the Court of the Judiciary (the Court of the Judiciary hears complaints filed by the Judicial Inquiry Commission)
  • Prevents a judge from being automatically disqualified from holding office simply because a complaint was filed with the Judiciary Inquiry Commission
  • Provides that a judge can be removed from office only by the Court of the Judiciary.

Meanwhile, a ‘Yes’ vote on Amendment Three would ensure that a district or circuit court judge, appointed to fill a vacancy serves up to two years in office before an election.

Proposed by Act No. 2019-346 (House Bill 505, 2019 Regular Legislative Session)
Bill Sponsor: Representative Faulkner
Cosponsor: Representative Fridy

Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Alabama of 1901, to provide that a judge, other than a judge of probate, appointed to fill a vacancy would serve an initial term until the first Monday after the second Tuesday in January following the next general election after the judge has completed two years in office. 

Proposed by Act 2019-346.

This description shall be followed by the following language: “Yes ( ) No ( ).”

Currently, a judge appointed to fill a vacancy serves an initial one year term or the remainder of the elected judges term.

Orr, who also sponsors Amendment Three, said the amendment better aligns the vacancy with an election cycle.

The senator said both amendments clean up the constitution, and are housekeeping measures that will allow for better management of the court system.

“For a lot of it there was a committee that was assembled to modernize the judicial article that passed in the early 70s under former U.S. senator, former Alabama Chief Justice Howell Heflin, when we modernized back then.”

Orr said efficiency and continuity, as it pertains to Alabama’s courts should be a priority this upcoming election.

Click here to view the list of amendments in full.

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