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The Douglas County courthouse in Castle Rock on Oct. 30, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

When lawmakers created a new judicial district in 2020 to account for population growth, they didn’t specify how to appoint judges in the new district — and the Colorado Constitution doesn’t give exact directions, either. 

Amendment D is a one-time measure that would amend the state Constitution to allow judges serving in the 18th Judicial District to transfer to the new 23rd district, bypassing the normal process used to seat judges.

The ballot measure stems from a state law passed in 2020 that removed Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties from the 18th Judicial District and reassigned them to a newly created 23rd Judicial District. The new judicial district was created to account for population growth in the fast growing southeastern suburbs. It is expected to be fully functioning by Jan. 7, 2025. Arapahoe County will be the lone county in the 18th Judicial District. 

There are currently 24 judges and one chief judge in the 18th district. Under the 2020 bill, seven judges will be removed from the 18th. The 23rd district is set to have eight judges. 

Here’s what you need to know about Amendment D:

What it would do

The 2020 law that created the first new judicial district since 1964 specified that 18th Judicial District judges who live in Douglas, Elbert or Lincoln counties would be reassigned to the new district. However, the Colorado Constitution doesn’t outline a process for reassigning judges from one district to a newly created district. 

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Under current constitutional procedure, the governor appoints a judge after receiving a list of candidates selected by a judicial nominating commission. Amendment D would let the governor appoint existing judges to fill the vacancies in the new 23rd Judicial District. It is limited to the one-time selection of judges for the newly created district.

If the amendment passes, seven judges from the 18th Judicial District would be reassigned by the governor to the 23rd Judicial District by Nov. 30, 2024. 

If the measure fails, there may be uncertainty about how to staff the 23rd district. The state constitution lays out the process for appointing new judges, but doesn’t account for how current judges might be reassigned when a new district is created.

The judges would be required to live in the 23rd Judicial District and would be subject to retention elections just like other judges. According to the state ballot information booklet, the “continuity of court functions could be disrupted” if the amendment does not pass. 

The arguments for

Proponents of the measure say it would establish a definitive procedure for seating judges in the new judicial district. That could avert potential lawsuits alleging improper seating of judges, claims that could overturn court rulings if they were to succeed.

Tom Raynes, executive director of the Colorado District Attorneys’ Council, said the amendment would simplify the transition of judges to the 23rd Judicial District. Making the already-appointed judges reapply for the job would be cumbersome and could risk court delays, he said. 

Rep. Mike Weissman, an Aurora Democrat and one of the prime sponsors of the resolution that referred the measure to the voters, said the constitutional amendment is about providing continuity in the courts for residents of the 18th and 23rd judicial districts. 

“This is not about bigger changes to how we do judgeships in Colorado, this is not about any future judicial district realignments,” Weissman said. “This is about a one-time term transition involving Arapahoe, Douglas, Elbert and Lincoln counties.”

The arguments against

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Opponents say the judges should be selected through the existing appointment process, and argue that allowing the governor to appoint judges directly would keep them from facing key checks and balances. 

Each judicial district has a nominating commission of seven district residents.

Chris Forsyth, executive director of the Judicial Integrity Project, said the amendment is a “special interest” measure to save the judges’ jobs. If passed, he said it would weaken the state’s judicial selection system.

Forsyth said the constitution should not be altered to address a one-time issue, and he echoed concerns about the potential for disruptive lawsuits over whether the judges were chosen legally. 

“Constituents, people who go to court in the new 23rd Judicial District will be able to say, ‘All the other constituents in this state and other judicial districts, had their judges go through their own nominating commission and be appointed by the governor. We didn’t get that,’” Forsyth said.

One big thing you should know

Amendment D would change the Colorado Constitution. Constitutional measures must receive at least 55% of the vote to be enacted.

The players and the money

There is no organized or well-funded support or opposition to Amendment D.

Delaney Nelson

Delaney Nelson is The Colorado Sun's 2022 Medill School of Journalism Fellow.