By: Jeremy Duda
Just a week after naming Bill Montgomery to the Arizona Supreme Court, a selection that critics panned, in part, as excessively partisan, Gov. Doug Ducey appointed a Democrat with a long history in the political arena to the state’s Court of Appeals.
Ducey on Friday appointed Maricopa County Superior Court Judge David Gass, who has served on the bench since 2009, to the appellate court. Prior to his appointment by Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano, Gass served as the chief lobbyist for Attorney General Terry Goddard, a Democrat, and as legal counsel for the Democratic caucus in the Arizona House of Representatives.
In a press statement, Ducey called Gass one of the more impressive judicial candidates he’s met.
“His understanding of the law, his appreciation for the separation of powers, his view of the role of a judge and of the court, and his ability to communicate his judicial philosophy to citizens and leaders will serve our state well on the Court of Appeals,” Ducey said. “Judge Gass’s broad support in the community speaks to the respect he has earned across the aisle and across the state, without regard for party affiliation.”
Gass’s appointment met with praise from people on both sides of the political aisle.
Secretary of State Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, tweeted that Gass was an “excellent choice” by the governor, while the Maricopa County Democratic Party called the appointment “a victory for the Arizona Court of Appeals and the state of Arizona.”
Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff, said Gass “possesses both the personality and the legal acumen to make him a stellar addition to the Court of Appeals.”
Some Republican critics on Twitter took aim at Ducey for the appointment, accusing the governor of choosing Gass to deflect the criticism he’s faced for appointing Montgomery to the Supreme Court.
Patrick Ptak, a spokesman for Ducey, said Gass’s appointment had nothing to do with Montgomery and wasn’t in any way a response to the criticism for appointment the longtime Maricopa County attorney to the Supreme Court.
While critics have recently accused Ducey of pushing the Supreme Court to the right, Ptak said Ducey has a strong record of bipartisan appointments to Arizona’s lower courts. He said Ducey has appointed a greater percentage of judges who weren’t from his party than any of his immediate three predecessors.
According to data recently compiled by the Supreme Court, which Ptak provided to the Arizona Mirror, 42 percent of Ducey’s judicial appointments have gone to non-Republicans. By comparison, only 11 percent of Gov. Jan Brewer’s appointments weren’t Republicans, only 28 percent of Napolitano’s picks weren’t Democrats and 36 percent of Gov. Jane Hull’s appointments weren’t Republicans.
Ptak also noted that Ducey has appointed a greater percentage of women to the courts than his predecessors did – 37 percent compared to 31 percent for Brewer, 32 percent for Napolitano and 34 percent for Hull.
Ducey has come under fire for appointing the polarizing Montgomery to the Supreme Court. Critics took issue with what they allege is a poor record on LGBT issues, overzealousness as a prosecutor, a lack of experience as a judge and an excessively partisan record.
Democrats have also criticized Ducey for partisanship in his appointments to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, which vets candidates for the Arizona Court of Appeals and Supreme Court. The commission currently has no Democratic members, only Republicans and independents. In addition to vetting judicial nominees, the commission also vets candidates for the Arizona Independent Redistricting Commission, the bipartisan body that redraws the state’s legislative and congressional districts every 10 years.