by Timothy Sandefur
The Goldwater Institute today filed a petition asking the Arizona Supreme Court to enable citizens to access information about cases the court’s been asked to decide. Unlike other courts, such as the U.S. Supreme Court, which posts such documents, the Arizona Supreme Court makes these documents available to the public only at a single computer terminal located in the court clerk’s offices in Phoenix. That has a significant impact on how the court operates, thanks to rules of procedure that make it hard to learn what cases the court’s been asked to decide until after that decision is made. As a result, Arizonans aren’t able to provide the justices with their perspective and views on important legal questions.
The U.S. Supreme Court posts its “petitions for certiorari”—briefs by lawyers asking the Court to decide a case—on its website. That allows members of the public and public policy organizations to file friend-of-the-court briefs weighing in on whether a case is significant enough to warrant the Court’s attention. But the Arizona Supreme Court doesn’t. And unlike its federal counterpart, the Arizona court can decide cases based solely on a petition, even without additional briefing. Also, the deadlines for filing friend-of-the-court briefs are so tight that even when the court announces that it’ll be deciding a case, it’s too late to file such a brief.
The result is that Arizona lawyers ask the court to decide important legal issues—but the justices may not realize their importance, because the process for choosing what cases to decide is done largely in the shadows. It’s not secret, of course—the court does provide this information. But it does so at only a single public computer terminal in the clerk’s office on Washington Street in Phoenix. If you’re in Tucson or Flagstaff, that’s quite a drive.
So we’ve asked the justices to post such petitions on their website, or at least the names and the legal questions involved. That will allow the legal community and the media to know what issues the court might be deciding and enable public policy organizations to better provide their recommendations.
Timothy Sandefur is the Vice President for Litigation at the Goldwater Institute.