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Alabama constitutional amendment would end impeachment of judges

October 29, 2020

As election day approaches much of the focus has been on the U.S. presidential race. However, several states will be electing judges on November 3 as well as considering ballot items affecting the courts. One measure of particular note is in Alabama. Amendment 2 represents the latest in a 200-year saga of answering a basic question: how should judges be removed from office?

Currently, Alabama's legislature has the power to impeach and remove judges from office. Amendment 2 would, among other things, remove that power. The only means to remove a judge from office would be via the state's judicial disciplinary system.

If adopted, this would be at least the sixth change in the way that Alabama handles the issue of how to remove judges from office. As David Steelman notes in his recent comprehensive look in this area, there is a long and somewhat complicated history here. The more traditional model of impeachment in which the House votes on articles of impeachment with the Senate conducting an impeachment trial has waxed and waned. The method was available from 1819 to 1875 when it was then limited to impeachment and removal for only supreme court justices. Lower court judges would be impeached and removed by judges of a higher-level court: the Alabama Supreme Court for higher-level trial court judges and the local circuit, city, or criminal court for justices of the peace. This situation remained until 1996 when a constitutional amendment brought back impeachment for the state's supreme court and higher-level trial court judges. That amendment itself would be repealed if Amendment 2 is approved by voters.

As noted, if approved the sole mechanism for removing judges from office in Alabama would be via the state's judicial disciplinary process. NCSC's Center for Judicial Ethics examines both the Alabama system as well as those in place in other states and examples both the composition of state judicial conduct commissions as well as available sanctions in judicial discipline proceedings.

For live coverage of whether or not Alabama Amendment 2 passes or to look at the results of 67 state supreme court races in 29 states being held this November, check out the NCSC Election 2020 page at www.ncsc.org/elections

How is your state handling judicial discipline? Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest, and share your experiences. For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.