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State laws associated with reallocation of judgeships

September 15, 2021

While chief justices and/or state courts of last resort generally possess the power to temporarily move judges, they typically lack the power to make permanent movements of judgeships or the power to allocate new judgeships. Those powers normally remain within the legislature. There are, however, two changes that may allow for such movements and reallocation.

Alabama's Judicial Resources Allocation Commission codified as Ala. Code 1975 § 12-9A-1 through 12-A-8 was enacted in 2017. By a two-thirds vote of the Commission, a vacant trial court judgeship (vacant by death, resignation, or retirement) may be moved to another location by the Commission without the need for legislative intervention.

Missouri’s new system is the circuit realignment plan codified as MO. Rev. Stat.  §478.073. Starting in 2020 and every twenty years thereafter, the judicial conference may submit a realignment plan of the state judicial circuits. The legislature has effectively one year to either accept, alter or reject it. If the legislature does nothing, the realignment plan goes into effect.

Many states allow their supreme courts or judicial councils to directly submit judicial reallocation recommendations based on weighted caseload or workload; however, they are only recommendations. For example:

  1. Florida’s constitution allows the Supreme Court to make recommendations for judicial allocations at any time (Art. V, Sec. 9)
  2. Iowa’s redistricting system in place since 2012 and codified as Iowa Code §602.6109, allows the Supreme Court to make recommendations directly to the legislature. It may not be amended. If approved and signed, the recommendation goes into law.
  3. Kentucky’s Constitution §110 (appellate) and §112 (trial) give the Supreme Court the power to certify the need to redraw judicial districts or move judicial vacancies. For circuit court, as stated in Section 112: “…the General Assembly having power upon certification of the necessity therefor by the Supreme Court, to change the number of circuit judges in any judicial circuit.”
  4. Louisiana’s Judicial Council and its recommendations are under LSA-R.S. 13:61. The Judicial Council may recommend splitting or merging courts and the legislature must ask the Judicial Council its opinion if a legislator wants to propose a split or merger. In the end, the “legislature shall not be required to act” and Council’s recommendation is only that.
  5. The Texas constitution (Art. 5, § 7a) requires the creation of a Judicial Districts Board to meet to realign or move District Court judgeships at least at the end of every census unless the legislature adopts its own plan. Since every “District” in Texas equals one judge, redistricting can effectively be reallocated. That aside, the Board can make recommendations under the same constitutional provision and Government Code § 24.941 through 24.954 but they are just recommendations.

What methods does your state use to reallocate judgeships? Share your experiences with us at Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164. Follow the National Center for State Courts on FacebookTwitterInstagram, or Pinterest!