Carney v. Adams


At a Glance

CLC filed an amicus brief in a Supreme Court case concerning the mandatory partisan balancing of Delaware’s state courts. The court’s decision could have ramifications for partisan-balance requirements in a wide variety of other federal and state government entities, including those responsible for overseeing electoral issues.

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About this Case

Section 3 of the Delaware Constitution provides that no more than a “bare majority” of judges on certain state courts may be members of one party, and the remainder must be of the other major political party. James Adams, who is unaffiliated with either the Democratic or Republican party, argues that this violates his First Amendment rights by excluding individuals like him from serving as judges. He contends that partisan balancing is insufficient to serve as a compelling interest to preserve well-functioning judiciaries. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled in Adams’s favor, holding that the partisan balancing requirements in Section 3 were unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court granted the state’s petition for certiorari, and CLC filed an amicus brief defending the general constitutionality of partisan-balance requirements, emphasizing the far-reaching ramifications the case could have for other agencies that benefit from political equilibria.

What’s at Stake:

Many federal and state entities are governed by, and function independently because of, carefully constructed political balances. A broad ruling in Adams’s favor could lead to the disassembly of these structures.

In particular, a broad ruling invalidating Section 3’s “bare majority” requirement could jeopardize the political equilibria of countless agencies, commissions, and panels outside of Delaware – equilibria that has been expressly authorized by voters through their representatives. Federal and state governments have relied on these intentionally politically balanced structures to govern across a range of issues, not limited to the judiciary. Partisan-balance is used to prevent single-party rule in many agencies that oversee politically consequential activities – notably, commissions that oversee elections and redistricting processes.

CLC filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the U.S. Supreme Court defending Section 3 of Delaware’s constitution. States should be empowered to set eligibility criteria for their judicial officers and the U.S. Supreme Court has already held that state governments may consider political affiliation in making employment decisions about policymakers. Indeed, two other appeals courts have already concluded that judges are policymakers under those U.S. Supreme Court decisions. CLC’s brief also argues that, to the extent the Supreme Court invalidates Section 3, its decision should be narrow and avoid casting doubt on the constitutionality of other partisan-balancing regimes. 

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Supreme Court
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