Denver Bar Association
April 2012
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Hickenlooper Unveils Court-Packing Plan

by Marshall Snider

I


ncensed by a recent decision of the Colorado Supreme Court barring public financing for the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed increasing the membership of the state’s highest court to 15 justices. Hickenlooper hopes to appoint an additional eight justices who will support funding that will bring the Winter Olympics to Colorado in the next decade.

Colorado was once offered the Winter Olympics, but environmental concerns led voters to stymie the process. The International Olympic Committee had awarded the 1976 Winter Olympics to Denver, but after a 1972 voter referendum in Colorado rejected public financing for the games the Olympics were awarded to Innsbruck, Austria.

Last month, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the 1972 referendum was phrased broadly enough to prohibit public spending on any Olympic Games in Colorado, whenever they might be proposed. As a result, the court has dashed the hopes of Hickenlooper and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to host the 2022 games.

Undaunted, Hickenlooper has proposed a constitutional amendment to expand the court to 15 justices. Article VI of the Colorado Constitution permits the number of justices, currently set at seven, to increase to nine if the General Assembly concurs. An increase to 15, however, will require a change to the Constitution, which the governor hopes voters will approve.

Hickenlooper decided that the number of justices should be increased to 15 so that he could appoint a clear majority of the court, legal experts familiar with the plan said. Not only would a Hickenlooper court of 15 give rise to the possibility of a reversal of the Olympics funding decision, but the governor also hopes that a court beholden to him will authorize the opening of a brew pub in the lobby of the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center now under construction in downtown Denver.

Olympics opponents are not the only ones concerned about the court-packing plan. Under promises of anonymity and immunity from prosecution, state judicial officials have told The Docket that the new judicial center was planned with the current number of justices in mind and does not have accommodations for an additional eight jurists. If the increase in court membership is approved by the voters, eight justices will have chambers limited to cubicles in the Supreme Court Library, and their clerks will work in the janitors’ closet near the boiler room.

In addition, because the court’s bench is only big enough to accommodate seven justices, at oral argument the Chief Justice will have to sit on a precariously placed high chair, and the other justices will have to double up on the chairs behind the bench. Court officials fear that this arrangement may make it difficult for counsel in oral argument to hear questions from justices who have someone sitting on their laps. D


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