Three Indiana Supreme Court justices have announced their retirement in the past two years. Another says he’s considering retiring before the end of the year. If it happens, it would mean Governor Mitch Daniels would have appointed four out of the court’s five justices.
In 2010, Governor Daniels appointed Steven David to the court replacing retired Justice Theodore Boehm. Then, in December 2011, Justice Randall Shepard announced his retirement.
“I’ve decided that it’s right to let somebody else have that sort of opportunity and to find something new to do,” Shepard said.
And Daniels replaced him with Mark Massa in April, saying it was one of the most serious decisions he has to make.
“I am quite at peace that this is the finest choice we could have made,” Daniels said.
Last month, Justice Frank Sullivan said he plans to retire this summer. And now, Justice Robert Rucker has suggested he might also retire later this year. All of the justices have cited personal reasons for their decisions.
Indiana University Maurer School of Law Professor Charles Geyh says while it’s unusual that so many justices are retiring in so short a time span, he doesn’t think they have political motivations.
“Dollars to donuts, [Mike] Pence will be our next governor, so the idea that these guys would be lining up and changing their personal future so that one Republican governor can replace them instead of another seems a little bit unlikely,” he says.
A state Judicial Nominating Commission sends the governor a list of three potential candidates based on their experience. The governor then chooses from that list of finalists. Geyh says this type of merit-based process helps the nomination from becoming too political.
“On the United States Supreme Court certainly that would mean everything that every new nomination is a political football. In Indiana the merit selection process, while I won’t say it’s devoid of political considerations, certainly those are downplayed significantly.”
Geyh points out, however, the court will be very young, which means new justices could bring fresh ways of thinking to the bench.