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Scott Bales to retire from Arizona Supreme Court

Chief Justice Scott Bales, right, in December with Gov. Doug Ducey. It will now be up to Ducey to choose a replacement. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

Chief Justice Scott Bales, right, in December with Gov. Doug Ducey. It will now be up to Ducey to choose a replacement. (Capitol Media Services file photo by Howard Fischer)

PHOENIX -- Scott Bales, chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and the only remaining Democrat on the panel, announced he is retiring at the end of July.

Bales, named to the court in 2005 by Democrat Gov. Janet Napolitano, is currently the longest-serving member of the court. He is just completing five years as the chief justice.

Tuesday’s move means Gov. Doug Ducey will get to name a fifth member of the state’s high court.

Potentially more significant, it also is likely to create a situation where there are no Democrats on the court.

The Commission on Appellate Court Appointments just sent Ducey a list of five nominees to fill the slot of John Pelander who stepped down at the end of last month. That list includes three Republicans and two Democrats, with the GOP governor likely to choose from his own party.

Ducey has until the end of April to make his choice.

Bales’ announcement now requires that panel to start the process anew.

Ducey already has named political independent Clint Bolick to the court, though his politics before being appointed skewed Republican. Other Ducey appointments include Republicans John Lopez and Andrew Gould.

The other two remaining justices, Robert Brutinel and Ann Scott Timmer, are Republicans.

Bales, who is 62, could legally serve until he turns 70.

Politically speaking, that would allow him to remain on the bench past the 2022 gubernatorial election, opening the possibility that his replacement might be chosen by a Democrat governor.

But the chief justice has left hints now for some time that he is ready to do something else, noting that when chief justices end their terms -- they are chosen by their colleagues -- they tend to leave the court rather than stay on under someone else. And Bales also did not hire new clerks this year.

It is common practice for governors to appoint someone from their own party to the state’s high court.

The only clear exception since the current selection process was approved by voters in 1984 was when Republican Gov. Jane Hull chose Democrat Ruth McGregor in 1998.

But McGregor came with a pedigree of sorts that made her acceptable to Republicans: She had clerked for -- and was endorsed -- by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

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