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Arizona legislators have agreed to let voters decide on rules for retaining state Supreme Court justices

Arizona Supreme Court justices before taking the oath (Via Elena Baker/Getty Images)

Arizona lawmakers on Wednesday approved a measure to be put on the November ballot. This initiative aims to safeguard two state Supreme Court justices facing removal because of their support for an almost complete ban on abortion dating back to the Civil War era.

Both the Senate and the House agreed to let voters decide whether to eliminate the current terms of six years for Supreme Court justices and four years for judges in large counties. If approved, justices could serve indefinitely as long as they behave ethically, unless a judicial review commission decides otherwise. This change would remove the need for a retention vote each time their term ends.

The proposed law as a ballot initiative bypasses Democratic Governor Katie Hobbs, who recently signed a repeal of the 1864 abortion law passed by the Legislature.

Some Democrats opposed the measure, highlighting that the retention rules were supported by the late Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a former Arizona state senator and judge in Superior and Appellate Courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court (Via Ben Kane/Shutterstock)

Senator Flavio Bravo emphasized that the retention system is crucial for maintaining checks and balances in democracy. He expressed regret that the initiative was being pursued shortly after Justice O’Connor’s death and voted against it.

Republican Senator Dave Gowan, who sponsored the bill, pointed out that judges would still be subject to review by a committee to assess their suitability.

The judicial ballot initiative is expected to appear alongside another initiative in November, which seeks to protect the right to abortion in the Arizona Constitution.

The final Senate vote on the initiative was 16-10, with four senators not voting. Republican Senator Shawnna Bolick, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clint Bolick, voted in favor despite requests from colleagues to recuse herself.

Justices Bolick and Kathryn Hackett King, who supported reinstating the 1864 abortion ban in April, are the only two Supreme Court justices facing retention votes in November.

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