Fri, July 19

Justice Michael Ryan to retire from Arizona Supreme Court

PHOENIX -- Gov. Jan Brewer will get a chance to name a second justice to the state's high court.

Justice Michael Ryan, named to the Arizona Supreme Court in 2002 by then-Gov. Jane Hull, announced Tuesday he is retiring. Ryan, who has been a judge in some fashion for 25 years, said he informed the governor on Tuesday his last day will be Aug. 6.

Ryan, 64, gave no reason for his decision to step down. The Arizona Constitution allows judges to serve until they reach 70.

While Brewer will name his replacement, the choice is not entirely hers.

A 1974 constitutional amendment requires applicants for the Arizona Supreme Court and the Arizona Court of Appeals, as well as trial judges in Pima and Maricopa counties, to be reviewed by a special screening commission. That panel must send at least three names to the governor, no more than two of whom in a three-name list can be from the same political party.

The governor has to make her pick from that list or the choice goes to the chief justice of the Supreme Court.

Unlike the federal system, there is no requirement for Senate confirmation of the governor's pick. But Supreme Court judges must stand for reelection of sorts every six years, with voters deciding whether to retain them in office or toss them out, a move that would start the selection process all over again.

In the history of the system, though, no Supreme Court justice has ever been rejected, though voters have turned out one appellate court judge and one Maricopa County Superior Court judge.

The result is that judges generally serve long beyond the terms of the governors who appointed them.

Since that system has been in place, every governor has chosen someone from his or her own political party for high court vacancies. The lone exception came when Hull, a Republican, in her first pick for the court, selected Democrat Ruth McGregor.

Brewer got her first input into the makeup of the high court last year with the selection of appellate judge John Pelander.

Two appointments of her predecessor, Janet Napolitano, are still on the court: Andre Hurwitz and Scott Bales. The fifth, Chief Justice Rebecca White Berch, is a holdover from the Hull administration that preceded Napolitano.

Prior to being named to the Supreme Court, Ryan was a judge on the Arizona Court of Appeals for more than five years, and served for more than a decade as a Maricopa County Superior Court judge.