Alabama Supreme Court

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Alabama Supreme Court
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Court information
Justices:   9
Founded:   1819
Salary
Chief:  $161-201k
Associates:  $160-200k
Judicial selection
Method:   Partisan elections
Term:   6 years
Active justices

Roy Moore  •  Lyn Stuart  •  Michael Bolin  •  Tom Parker  •  Glenn Murdock  •  Greg Shaw  •  Kelli Wise  •  Tommy Bryan  •  James Allen Main  •  

Seal of Alabama.png

Founded in 1819 as provided in the state constitution, the Alabama Supreme Court is the state's court of last resort.

Justices

The current justices of the court are:
JudgeTermSelected byParty
Chief Justice Roy Moore2001-2003; 2013-2018Republican
Justice Lyn Stuart2000-2018Republican
Justice Michael Bolin2005-2016Republican
Justice Tom Parker2004-2016Republican
Justice Glenn Murdock2006-2018Republican
Justice Greg Shaw2008-2014Republican
Justice Kelli Wise2011-2016Republican
Justice Tommy Bryan2013-2018Republican
Justice James Allen Main2011-2018Gov. Bob RileyRepublican


Jurisdiction

The Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review the decisions reached by lower courts within the state. It is also authorized to review matters of contention where the dollar amount in question exceeds $50,000 (if no other Alabama court has jurisdiction), review cases over which no other state court has jurisdiction, and appeals from the Alabama Public Service Commission. The Supreme Court has a supervisory role over the other courts in the state and is charged with making rules governing administration, practice and procedure in all courts.[1]

Judicial Selection

See also: Judicial selection in Alabama

All justices on the Alabama Supreme Court are elected for six year terms in partisan elections.[2] The composition of the court consists of eight Associate Justices and one Chief Justice. Vacancies, which can occur when a judge dies, resigns, retires, or is removed from office, are filled by appointments by the governor of Alabama. The justice must run for the seat in the general election at least one year after being appointed.[3]

Political outlook

See also: Political ideology of State Supreme Court Justices

In October 2012, political science professors Adam Bonica and Michael Woodruff of Stanford University attempted to determine the partisan outlook of State Supreme Court justices in their paper, State Supreme Court Ideology and 'New Style' Judicial Campaigns. A score above 0 indicated a more conservative leaning ideology while scores below 0 were more liberal. The state Supreme Court of Alabama was given a Campaign finance score (CFscore) which was calculated for judges in October 2012. At that time, Alabama received a score of 0.79. Based on the justices selected, Alabama was the 4th most conservative court. The study is based on data from campaign contributions by judges themselves, the partisan leaning of contributors to the judges or, in the absence of elections, the ideology of the appointing body (governor or legislature). This study is not a definitive label of a justice but rather, an academic gauge of various factors.[4]

Qualifications

To be considered a candidate of the Supreme Court, the person must:

  • Be licensed to practice law in Alabama.
  • Have lived in Alabama for at least one year.
  • Be 70 years of age or younger at the time of candidacy.[5]

Removal of justices

Justices can be removed in one of two ways:

  • They may be impeached.
  • The Judicial Inquiry Commission will investigate complaints against judges and produce a filed complaint with the Court of the Judiciary. This court may censure, suspend, or remove the judge in question. These decisions, however, may be appealed to the Supreme Court.

Caseloads

Fiscal Year Filings Dispositions
2012 1,641 1,681
2011 1,576 1,654
2010 1,789 1,987
2009 1,810 1,812
2008 1,730 1,763
2007 1,828 1,804

[6][7][8][9][10][11]

Notable decisions

  • Meth lab ruling
On April 4, 2014, the court, for the first time, issued a ruling which protects the public from the potential dangers posed by meth labs. In the underlying case, emergency units responded to a report of a possible meth lab at an apartment complex on January 7, 2014. When personnel arrived, they smelled odors consistent with those released during the process of making meth. The odor was emanating from an apartment. When the door of the apartment was opened, police found a man, woman and two children living there. The apartment and building were evacuated for safety reasons. Firefighters then entered the apartment, located an inactive meth lab in a foam cooler and removed it from the premises. The man and woman were charged with the unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance, in the first degree.
A motion to suppress was filed by the defendants in the case on the grounds that police had no compelling reason to go into the apartment without first obtaining a warrant. The state filed an appeal, but the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals upheld the ruling of the trial court. An appeal was then filed with the state supreme court. The high court agreed that police acted reasonably when they made the decision to enter the apartment because they smelled odors consistent with a meth lab. The potentially serious risk for an explosion, posed by the presence of the meth lab, made it necessary for officers to quickly respond to protect the public.[12]
  • ExxonMobil Corp. v. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (2007)
In an 8-1 ruling, the Supreme Court (Justice Cobb dissenting) voided the punitive damages portion of a $3.6 billion jury award against ExxonMobil. The state of Alabama sued ExxonMobil over disputed royalty revenues; compensatory damages were awarded in excess of $100 million, and punitive damages were awarded in the amount of $3.5 billion. The Supreme Court ruled in November 2007 that for the State to be awarded $3.5 billion in punitive damages relating to a fraud claim regarding the disputed royalty fees, the State had to prove 1) Exxon had a duty to disclose material facts that 2) were concealed or not disclosed, which 3) induced the State to act 4) to the State's injury, resulting 5) in actual damage to the State. On this burden the State failed on multiple grounds, necessitating the reversal of the punitive damages.
  • Driver exams in Spanish
In a 5-4 decision, the Alabama Supreme Court said the ProEnglish group presented no evidence that administering the test in multiple languages diminishes English as Alabama's common language. The Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling in favor of Gov. Bob Riley and other state officials. Writing for the majority, the Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb cited the governor's argument that permitting people with limited English proficiency to take the written portion of the exam in their native language helped them get a license, and the license fostered their assimilation into the community by increasing their access to education, employment and shopping. Four justices — Glenn Murdock, Lyn Stuart, Michael Bolin and Tom Parker — said the case should have gone in favor of the plaintiffs. In Bolin's dissent, he said the majority was misinterpreting the constitutional amendment and that "[t]he immigrants who came to Alabama by way of Ellis Island in the early 20th century did not have the benefit of a tortured construction of Amendment No. 509 and evidently 'assimilated' the wrong way — they actually learned the English language." Judge Michael Bolin added, “What the officials of Alabama have accomplished in offering the written portion of the driver’s license test in 12 foreign languages, is to revise Amendment 509 into a ‘blank paper by [judicial] construction…’” In 1990, Alabama voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that says: "English is the official language of the state of Alabama." The constitutional amendment also says the Legislature "shall enforce this amendment by appropriate legislation," and the Legislature "shall make no law which diminishes or ignores the role of English as the common language of the state of Alabama." Judge Glenn Murdock, joined in the scathing dissent by quoting a standard legal encyclopedia, “Constitutions are the result of popular will, and their words are to be understood ordinarily as used in the sense such words convey to the popular mind.” The state Department of Public Safety currently offers the driver's exam in Arabic, English, Chinese, Farsi, French, German, Greek, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Spanish, Thai, Vietnamese and American sign language.[13][14]
  • Alabama court sides with governor in budget fight
The Alabama Supreme Court filled a $63 million hole in the state General Fund budget Thursday by siding with Governor Bob Riley in a dispute over use of funds won in a court case. Tuscaloosa businessman Stan Pate had sued the governor, contending Riley erred when he put the money from Exxon Mobil Corp. litigation into the state General Fund. Montgomery County Circuit Judge William A. Shashy sided with Pate in April, holding that the $63 million should go into a state savings account called the Alabama Trust Fund. Without dissent, however, the Supreme Court vacated Shashy's decision and said Pate didn't have legal standing to bring the suit. "Pate's claim of standing as a taxpayer must fail because the Trust Fund receives no tax revenue; it is funded only from royalties from the production of oil and gas under offshore leases," Justice Thomas Woodall wrote. At issue was part of the $121.5 million that the state government received from Exxon Mobil in litigation over natural gas wells the company drilled in state-owned waters along the Alabama coast. Nearly half of the amount was compensatory damages for royalties that weren't paid by the oil company, and the remainder was a penalty. Riley put $58.2 million in compensatory damages into the Alabama Trust Fund, but he put $63.3 million from the penalty into the General Fund to help balance next year's budget during an economic slowdown. Pate's attorneys argued that the state constitution required Riley to put the entire amount into the trust fund to be saved for future generations. The state attorney general's office argued on Riley's behalf that his action was correct. Shashy ruled against Riley as the Legislature was trying to wrap up work on the General Fund budget for next year.[15]
  • Alabama's top judge defiant on commandments' display
By the morning of August 21, 2003, Chief Justice Roy Moore of Alabama was to have removed the 5,280-pound monument of the Ten Commandments that he secretly installed one night in the lobby of the State Supreme Court. A federal judge had ruled that the granite block, known as Roy's Rock, violated the separation of church and state. He had said, "If they want to get the commandments, they're going to have to get me first." Federal officials have decided that fines, not force, are the best way to deal with the monument. Justice Moore lost a last-ditch appeal to the United States Supreme Court, hurtling him head-on into a conflict with a federal judge who has threatened to make him pay $5,000 for every day that the Ten Commandments remain in public view. Judge Myron Thompson of Federal District Court, who presided over this case brought by several civil liberties groups, tried to take the path of least resistance. Nine months prior, Judge Thompson ruled that placing a 4-foot-tall stone block of the Ten Commandments in the court's lobby was "nothing less than an obtrusive year-round religious display." Associate Justice Thomas Woodall of the Alabama Supreme Court discussed the possibility that a majority of judges could vote to remove Justice Moore's administrative power over the building and have the monument carted away. "That has been discussed," Justice Woodall said. "A lot."[16]

Ethics

Financial disclosure

See also: Center for Public Integrity Study on State Supreme Court Disclosure Requirements

In December 2013, the Center for Public Integrity released a study on disclosure requirements for state supreme court judges. Analysts from the Center reviewed the rules governing financial disclosure in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia, as well as personal financial disclosures for the past three years. The study found that 42 states and Washington D.C. received failing grades. Alabama earned a grade of F in the study. No state received a grade higher than "C". Furthermore, due in part to these lax disclosure standards, the study found 35 instances of questionable gifts, investments overlapping with caseloads and similar potential ethical quandaries. The study also noted 14 cases in which justices participated although they or their spouses held stock in the company involved in the litigation.[17]

History of the court

Alabama Supreme Court building in Montgomery, Alabama

The 1819 Constitution of Alabama, under which the state was admitted to the Union, allowed the powers of the supreme court to be vested in several circuit courts and judges. From 1819 until the reformation constitution in 1868 judges were elected by both houses of the General Assembly. In 1832 the court was revised as a separate entity from the lower courts.

In the wake of the civil war and as part of reconstruction measures the 1868 Reconstruction Constitution was created and judges were to be elected by the populace. Since then judges have been elected in partisan elections.[18]

Notable firsts

  • Former Justice Janie Shores was the first woman to serve on the court. She was elected as a Democrat in 1974. With this election, she was also the first female elected judge of an appellate court in the country.[19]
  • Former Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb is the first woman elected to the position of Chief Justice in the state of Alabama.
  • Justice Oscar William Adams, Jr. was the first African-American to serve on the court. He was appointed by Governor Fob Jones in 1980.[20]

See also

External links

References


2012

CandidateIncumbencyPartyPlacePrimary VoteElection Vote
GraddickCharles Graddick    NoRepublicanChief Justice25.5% 
MaloneCharles Malone    YesRepublican24.5% 
JonesDebra H. Jones    NoRepublicanPlace 134.8% 
PoynterGinger Poynter    NoIndependentChief Justicen/awithdrawn%   DefeatedD
MurdockGlenn Murdock   ApprovedAYesRepublicanPlace 398.16%   ApprovedA
LyonHarry Lyon    NoDemocraticChief Justicedisqualified%   DefeatedD
MainJames Allen Main   ApprovedAYesRepublicanPlace 498.13%   ApprovedA
StuartLyn Stuart   ApprovedAYesRepublicanPlace 298.13%   ApprovedA
MaddoxMelinda Lee Maddox    NoIndependentChief Justicen/a   DefeatedD
VanceRobert S. Vance    NoDemocraticChief Justice48.23%   DefeatedD
MooreRoy Moore   ApprovedANoRepublican49.9%ApprovedA51.76%   ApprovedA
BryanTommy Bryan   ApprovedANoRepublican65.1%ApprovedA98.07%   ApprovedA

2010

Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 1
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Kelli Wise (R) BallotCheckMark.png 912,463 62.9%
Rhonda Chambers (D) 537,670 37%
Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 2
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Michael Bolin (R) BallotCheckMark.png 907,234 62.7%
Tom Edwards (D) 537,966 37.2%
Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 3
2010 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Tom Parker (R) BallotCheckMark.png 849,323 59%
Mac Parsons (D) 591,678 41%
  • Click here for 2010 General Election Results from the Alabama Secretary of State.
Main article: Alabama judicial elections, 2010

2008 Election

Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice
2008 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Greg Shaw (R) BallotCheckMark.png 1,021,371 50.3%
Deborah Bell Paseur (D) 1,008,479 49.6%
  • Click here for 2008 General Election Results from the Alabama Secretary of State.

2006 Election

Alabama Supreme Court, Chief Justice
2006 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Sue Bell Cobb (D) BallotCheckMark.png 634,494 51.5%
Drayton Nabers Jr. (R) 596,237 48.4%
Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 1
2006 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Thomas Woodall (R) BallotCheckMark.png 665,610 56.7%
Gwendolyn Thomas Kennedy (D) 506,691 43.2%
Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 2
2006 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Lyn Stuart (R) BallotCheckMark.png 680,103 59.4%
Albert L. “Al” Johnson (D) 495,846 40.8%
Alabama Supreme Court, Associate Justice, Seat 3
2006 General election results
Candidates Votes Percent
Glenn Murdock (R) BallotCheckMark.png 651,057 55%
John England (D) 532,837 45%
  • Click here for 2006 General Election Results from the Alabama Secretary of State.

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