Colorado Supreme Court embarks on a “Bender” as narrowly-retained Justice Michael Bender is promoted to Chief Justice

In a development which bodes ill for the rule of law in Colorado (but which was eminently predictable – in fact, predicted by Clear The Bench Colorado Director Matt Arnold in numerous appearances and presentations) the Colorado Supreme Court earlier today announced the impending takeover of the Chief Justice’s position by Michael Bender, who must be viewed as the handpicked heir and ideological inheritor of outgoing Chief Justice Mary Mullarkey.

Justice Bender retained his office by the narrowest margin in Colorado history for an incumbent state supreme court justice (along with his colleague, and ideological ally, Alex Martinez) less than a week earlier; his retention in office was supported by an organization (IAALS) in which he sits on the board (potentially violating the judicial code of conduct) which is also under the cloud of a pending campaign finance law violation case, which may be heard as early as this Friday (12 November 2010).

As remarked in the Law Week article covering the announcement (“Bender Will Be New Colo. Supreme Court Chief Justice“),

Bender, like Mullarkey, is considered a member of the court’s liberal wing. He and fellow justices Alex Martinez and Nancy Rice earlier this month survived an effort by a political group, Clear The Bench Colorado, to oust them. The effort failed, but citizens in some rural counties voted to reject one or more of the three justices.

The article went on to describe some of Bender’s most controversial (and anti-constitutional) opinions, including two of the cases highlighted in Clear The Bench Colorado’s Evaluation of Judicial Performance for Justice Bender, the Barber v. Ritter “fees don’t count as taxes” case (which opened the door for the Colorado Car Tax – er, vehicle registration fee – increase) and the Lobato v. Colorado “judges get to decide school funding levels” case:

Bender is the author of some of the high court’s most controversial recent opinions. In November 2008, he wrote the opinion in the 4-3 Barber v. Ritter decision, which held that the transfer of special cash funds to the state general tax fund is not subject to voter approval under the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. This has been criticized by conservatives as giving the state legislature free rein to circumvent TABOR by increasing fees instead of increasing taxes.

Bender also wrote the October 2009 opinion in Lobato v. Colorado, another 4-3 decision, which revived a lawsuit that alleges the state’s current funding scheme for public education violates the constitutional requirement that funding be “thorough and uniform.” If the lawsuit is successful, the state could be held liable for an additional $2.9 billion a year for public schools. Republican Attorney General John Suthers publicly came out against the decision, which he said “is not good news for the Colorado taxpayer.”

The article concluded with the most recent controversial decision penned by Bender, in the weeks leading up to the election (which Denver Post columnist Vincent Carroll described at the time as “yet another reason why two justices up for retention should be bounced from the bench“:

In a decision last month that gained national attention, Bender authored the opinion in Montes-Rodriguez v. Colorado, which held that a person’s use of another’s social security number is not criminal impersonation. The court split 4-3 on the decision.

Now-Chief Justice Bender is also highly likely to follow in outgoing Chief Justice Mullarkey’s partisan footsteps in determining the boundaries of Colorado’s legislative and Congressional districts (via his appointment powers on the state-level reapportionment commission, and by continuing along the path set in the notorious Salazar v. Davidson redistricting case upholding a judicial power grab to decide Congressional redistricting).

Unfortunately, Bender’s contempt for the Colorado Constitution and disregard for the rule of law is likely to continue to define the out-of-control Colorado Supreme Court for years to come; an already discredited court truly “going on a Bender” as we enter the second decade of the 21st Century.

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