The Alabama House of Representatives passed a constitutional amendment revising and rewriting the section of the Alabama 1901 Constitution dealing with the judiciary on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 216 is a constitutional amendment sponsored by State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur.
SB216 was carried in the Alabama House by State Rep. Prince Chestnut, D-Selma.
Chestnut said that SB216 revises the 1973 Judicial Article written by Howell Heflin.
SB216 makes a number of changes to the 1901 Constitution. Most notably, it strips the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court of the power to appoint the administrative director of the courts. If this passes, they would be hired instead by a majority vote of the whole court.
“Over the last 30 years, we have had 11 different administrative director of the courts,” Chestnut said. “The thinking of the committee members was that this was something that needed to be changed.”
The current administrative director of the courts is Rich Hobson, who was appointed by Chief Justice Tom Parker (R) in January after Parker was sworn in as chief justice. Hobson previously served as administrative director twice. Both of those previous times he was appointed by and served under then Chief Justice Roy Moore (R).
Chestnut said SB216 adds probate judges and municipal judges to the Judicial Inquiry Commission. Adding a probate judge appointment and a municipal judge appointment will take the Judicial Inquiry Commission from nine to 11 members.
Chestnut said the bill also sets the retirement age for judges across the state at age 70.
Chestnut said several sections of the Alabama Constitution are being revised. A committee spent the last year revising the judicial article. That committee recommended raising the retirement age to 75, but the Senate lowered that back to age 70.
“I have advocated for senior citizens my entire life, and I don’t know why we have an age limit on our judges,” said State Rep. Randall Shedd, R-Cullman.
“I can’t understand that,” Shedd said. “One of the greatest leaders in our state serves in the Senate, and he is 84 years old.”
“Isn’t that age discrimination?” Shedd asked.
State Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, said they want people with experience on the court.
Hill, age 70, is a retired judge from St. Clair County and the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He also was a member of the committee that revised the judicial article.
Hill offered an amendment to change the mandatory retirement age back to 75 as the committee had originally.
Chestnut agreed to allow the House to vote on Hill’s amendment but recommended to the body that the retirement age stay at 70.
State Rep. Christopher John England, D-Tuscaloosa, said in most cases, the more seasoned the judge, the better the outcome. He said he knows an old judge, and he does a good job.
England said his father is a judge and age 72, so he will not be able to run for another term when his current term ends.
“Age 70 is not the same age as it was 50 years ago,” Hill said.
Hill’s floor amendment was defeated 18 to 73.
SB216 passed without amendment, so the age that judges can no longer seek another term or be appointed remained at age 70 in the bill.
As SB216 is a constitutional amendment, which means it does not go to the governor for her signature. Instead, it still has to be ratified by the voters, who will get to vote on it on March 3, 2020, during the Alabama presidential primary.