Finalists named for Ducey appointees to Arizona Supreme Court

PHOENIX -- Gov. Doug Ducey will have four Republicans, two political independents and a Democrat to choose from as he fills the two new seats on the Arizona Supreme Court.

Following interviews of nine candidates Friday, the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments voted Friday to forward the names of seven of them to the governor. By law, Ducey has 60 days to choose from that list or the choice goes to Supreme Court Chief Justice Scott Bales.

The commission is required to provide the governor a politically diverse list, with no more than 60 percent of nominees from any one party.

The nominees are:

• Pamela Frasher Gates, 45, a judge at Maricopa County Superior Court, who was a Democrat for two years before becoming a Republican in 1992;

• Thomas Gilson, 53, a political independent who works at a Phoenix law firm;

• Andrew Gould, 52, a Republican on the Court of Appeals;

• John Lopez IV, 47, who serves as the state solicitor general within the attorney general's office, in charge of lawsuits against the state, a Republican;

• Robert McWhirter, 54, a Democrat in private practice for himself;

• Peter Swann, 51, an appellate court judge who said he has been a registered as a political independent since last year after more than 30 years as a Democrat;

• Samuel Thumma, 54, a Republican appellate court judge.

The vacancies were created by the Republican-controlled legislature earlier this year. Proponents argued that having more justices creates the possibility for greater diversity and helps spread the workload.

That latter argument was rebuffed by the five sitting justices, four of whom are Republican, who said the caseload does not merit a seven-member court.

Democrat lawmakers also accused the GOP of trying pack the court with more people the governor finds politically and philosophically acceptable. Republican lawmakers denied that but conceded during debate that they liked the idea of having a Republican governor who would get to make the appointments.

Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts, these are not lifetime jobs.

While the justices do not face traditional political elections, as they do in some states, their names are placed on the ballot two years after they are selected and then every six years, allowing voters to decide whether to retain them in office or turn them out, a process that would start the nomination process over. That has never happened to a Supreme Court justice since voters approved the current system in 1974, though they have turned out lower court judges.

Justices also are required to retire at age 70.

Ducey has already filled one vacancy on the high court, naming Clint Bolick, a registered independent who, as an attorney with the Goldwater Institute, espoused many of the same leanings against government regulation and oversight as Ducey.

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