Supreme Weekly: Michigan, Ohio, New Mexico and Colorado
by Katy Farrell
The connective thread in the actions of the state Supreme Courts this week is their involvement with other government branches and agencies. As the courts of last resort, these arbitrators are accustomed to having the final say. This week, however, we have two executives involved with the courts, a court approving the work of the legislature, and a justice testifying in a state house.
This week, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal requested by Governor Rick Snyder, showing that sometimes actions speak louder than words. The court's denial allowed the previous decisions by the Michigan Court of Appeals and 30th Circuit Court to stand, neither of which were favorable for the administration. At issue is the Michigan State Legislature's 2010 bill that collected 3% of state employees' wages for health care retiree payments. The lower courts found that only the Michigan Civil Service Commission has the authority to set state employee pay. 
When the high court decides to not hear an appeal, it does not provide an explanation. Oftentimes, it does not allow appeals when it agrees with the lower court ruling (and has nothing else to add) or if it is a political issue with which the court wishes to avoid involvement. In this case, it could also have not allowed appeal because the situation has already been corrected by the state legislature. A new bill was passed which raises the deduction to 4%, but allows employees to choose whether to join the state retirement system. In the meantime, those who contributed to the retirement program since its 2010 inception will receive refunds. 
On Monday, the Colorado Supreme Court released its written opinion approving new congressional maps for the state. This week's opinion ended months of commissions, lawsuits, and trials over the new boundaries. 
Like most redistricting, Colorado's process has been based on partisan goals. The approved maps are considered to favor Democrats, since some Republican incumbent legislators find themselves competing against one another in the same districts. Also, Republicans argue that the process was unfair, claiming that the commission gave Democrats more time to submit maps and refused to allow the GOP to submit a minority report. In response, attorneys for the commission said that the process was equal for both parties. 
To learn more about the process the state, visit: Redistricting in Colorado on Ballotpedia.
This week the New Mexico Supreme Court decided that Governor Susana Martinez created "an unworkable piece of legislation" when she partially vetoed a bill dealing with the state's unemployment fund.  The bill intended to increase a business tax which would expand contributions to the fund. The Supreme Court was reluctant to get involved in the dispute, perhaps because more than once state legislators have sued the governor in her first year in office.
The struggle is one of the many faced by Republican Governor Susana Martinez and a Democratic-controlled New Mexico State Legislature in 2011. In July, the governor was taken to court over a line-item veto. At that time, the high court found in favor of the state legislators who brought suit against the executive as well. To read more about that, visit: Supreme Weekly: Governors in the courts, July 14, 2011.
In Ohio this week, Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer testified before an Ohio House of Representatives committee hearing on capital punishment. Pfeifer, who has served on the court since 1992, has in recent years become firmly opposed to the use of the death penalty in the state. His arguments against using the form of punishment echo those of activists: it is essentially a "death lottery", a punishment meted out unfairly, based on race, gender, class, and the whims of the prosecutor; it is not a deterrent; and there is no place for it when life without possibility of parole is an option. 
In January 2011, Pfeifer even called on Republican Governor John Kasich to abolish the punishment, which was promptly refuted.  Pfeifer's turn to advocacy is unusual for a sitting judge, who are held to the high standards of the judicial canon. They are generally not allowed to speak about pending cases or advocate for certain punishments. However, Justice Pfeifer says that his opinions do not sway his ability to rule impartiality on death penalty cases, stating, "You will find my name on opinions, continue to find my name on opinions that uphold the death penalty." 
- Supreme Weekly: Freshman governors and their 2011 Supreme Court appointments
- Judgepedia's Supreme Weekly: The States
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 Detroit Free Press, "Michigan Supreme Court won't hear appeal on state employee pay deduction," December 14, 2011
- ↑ LegalNewsline.com, "Colo. SC OKs legislative redistricting plan," December 13, 2011
- ↑ The Denver Post, "Colorado Supreme Court sides with Democrats, picks their maps for new legislative districts," December 12, 2011
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 The Republic, "NM Supreme Court rules partial veto of unemployment insurance legislation was unconstitutional," December 14, 2011
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 The Plain Dealer, "Ohio Supreme Court Justice Paul Pfeifer urges lawmakers to repeal death penalty in Ohio," December 14, 2011
|This article was written by Katy Farrell, the Editor of Judgepedia. She can be reached at email@example.com.|