Arizona Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales informed Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday that he will retire in July, paving the way for Ducey to appoint a linchpin fifth justice to the seven-member high court.
Bales hinted that he might resign when he declined to hire any new clerks for the year. But his retirement reflects a major shift in the governor's influence on the high court: Bales' resignation closely follows the recent departure of Justice John Pelander, who resigned from the court on March 1.
The Supreme Court will be packed with five Ducey appointees after the governor appoints new justices to replace Pelander and Bales.
When he fills Pelander's vacancy, Ducey will have appointed more justices to the Arizona Supreme Court than any of his peers in state history.
Ducey signed legislation expanding the Arizona Supreme Court from five to seven justices in 2016. So far, the governor has appointed to the bench Clint Bolick, John Lopez, and Andrew Gould.
The Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments reviews candidates for the Supreme Court and then submits a shortlist of nominees to the governor. Last week, the commission sent Ducey a list of five candidates to replace Pelander: three Division One judges of the Arizona Court of Appeals, a Pima County Superior Court judge, and an attorney at the firm Snell and Wilmer LLP.
Former Governor Janet Napolitano appointed Bales to the Supreme Court in 2005. His five-year term as chief justice will wrap up on June 30.
Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court face mandatory retirement at age 70. Bales, who is 62, will depart with several years left to serve.
According to a news release from the Supreme Court, Bales told Ducey in a letter that he will resign on July 31, 2019.
"Bales stated it has been deeply gratifying to serve with his fellow justices and noted their commitment to working together and fairly upholding the law," the release said.
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Vice Chief Justice Robert Brutinel said in the statement, "Chief Justice Bales’ commitment to the rule of law and the improvement of our courts have made Arizona’s courts more accessible, efficient and fair. He is nationally recognized as an outstanding leader and jurist and the judicial branch will miss his leadership."
Because of Bales' retirement, Supreme Court applicants who fail to secure a gubernatorial appointment to replace Pelander will get another shot.
The most polarizing applicant to replace Pelander was Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery; however, Montgomery failed to make the commission's shortlist of candidates submitted to Ducey on Friday.
A spokesperson for Montgomery did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to whether the county attorney intends to apply again.