‘We’ll remember in November!” So goes the rallying cry of those frustrated with the Arizona Supreme Court for invalidating Prop. 207, the Invest in Ed ballot initiative, which sought to raise taxes and distribute revenue to Arizona’s education system. Curiously, critics of the court’s decision have started a grassroots effort to unseat Arizona Supreme Court Justices Clint Bolick and John Pelander, never mind that we have yet to know where each justice stood on the matter.
What we do know is the court struck down Prop. 207 because it failed to inform signatories that it would repeal a law indexing our tax brackets to inflation, and it inaccurately described the tax hike in percentages, rather than percentage points — two flaws that clearly ran afoul of Arizona’s ballot initiative rules, which require clear and accurate language.
Thus, the reasoning behind the effort to unseat Bolick is elusive. Advocates behind this effort have neither criticized his judicial philosophy nor his legal prowess. Instead, the movement demands a pound of flesh from Bolick simply because the court applied the law rather than bending to outside influence.
So who is Clint Bolick? A shadowy figure in a dark robe? Hardly. The court’s only registered independent boasts a seemingly permanent grin and is prone to bouts of hearty laughter, but when it comes to business, Bolick has a scorpion’s sting.
He types with only his right index finger, which is emblazoned with a scorpion tattoo, the result of representing a tattoo studio that the government illegally tried to put out of business. As an advocate, he won battle after battle for the proverbial “little guy,” and once even sued Donald Trump for using eminent domain to replace an elderly woman’s home with a parking lot for his casino’s limousines.
In 2016, Bolick swapped out his advocacy hat for a judicial robe and never looked back, quickly gaining a reputation for his staunch independence. It took just a few months on the court for Bolick to dissent in State v. Gray, when he disagreed with the court’s majority and the Arizona attorney general that criminal defendants should have to admit their alleged crime to pursue an entrapment defense. In the last election cycle, he showed impartiality when he took part in upholding the minimum-wage ballot measure, even though his previous employer, the Goldwater Institute, took part in the challenge.
Bolick is equally noteworthy for his exposition of the oft-ignored yet powerful Arizona Constitution. In State v. Jean, he joined the majority in declaring warrantless GPS monitoring violates the Fourth Amendment, but also wrote separately that the case could’ve been decided under the Arizona Constitution, which provides greater privacy protection than the U.S. Constitution. And in Stambaugh v. Killian, he wrote separately to highlight Arizona’s vibrant separation of powers, in contrast to the blurred lines of our federal government.
Even the most zealous Prop. 207 advocates surely desire a staunchly independent court, free from political influence. Bolick has demonstrated just that — a commitment to the law, not politics. A vote to unseat him will damage the court’s independence and undermine its nonpolitical nature.