Indiana's next state Supreme Court justice will complete the remaking of the bench, as all five justices will be white and will have been appointed since 2010 by Republican governors.
The state's Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday chose three finalists to succeed Justice Robert Rucker, who is retiring May 12. Once the names of the finalists — Judges Vicki Carmichael, Christopher Goff and Matthew Kincaid — are sent to Gov. Eric Holcomb, he'll have 60 days in which to choose one to succeed Rucker.
Here is some background on the finalists, Rucker and the court.
Carmichael, 54, has been a Clark Circuit Court judge in the Ohio River county just north of Louisville, Kentucky, since 2007. She would be the high court's third female justice ever, including its current chief justice, Loretta Rush. Carmichael, who's married and has an adult daughter in college, was a city court judge in Jeffersonville for six years before becoming a county judge. Unlike the other two finalists, who are Republicans, Carmichael is a Democrat. She previously was in private practice and served as a public defender. She's a graduate of the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville.
Goff, who turns 45 on Tuesday, has served as a Wabash Superior Court judge since 2005. In his application for the high court seat, he wrote that the courts in Wabash County, located in northeastern Indiana, are among the state's busiest based on the number of cases assigned to each judge. Goff, who is married and has two daughters, previously worked in private practice. He's a graduate of the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
Kincaid, 46, has been a Boone Superior Court judge in the county just northwest of Indianapolis since 2003. Like the other finalists, before becoming a judge he was a lawyer in a private practice. This is Kincaid's second time as a finalist for the state Supreme Court. The Judicial Nominating Commission also selected him last year as one of three finalists to succeed Justice Brent Dickson. Then-Gov. Mike Pence chose Indianapolis attorney Geoffrey Slaughter for that vacancy. Kincaid, who is married with three children, is a graduate of the Loyola University of Chicago School of Law.
Rucker, 70, announced in January that he would retire this spring, five years before reaching the court's mandatory retirement age. His last day on the bench is May 12. Rucker was named to the bench in 1999 by Democratic Gov. Frank O'Bannon, becoming only its second black justice ever. His departure will leave the court with only white justices, and all three finalists for his vacancy are white. Rucker is the court's only remaining Democratic appointee.
INDIANA'S REVAMPED COURT:
When Rucker's replacement is named, all five members of the state's highest court will have been appointed by Republican governors. Indiana University law professor Joel Schumm said that's the first time that's happened since Indiana voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1970 creating a commission to pick finalists for the governor to choose from. He said he doesn't think the change will be particularly significant because Indiana justices have a long tradition of not being politically ideological in their rulings. The governor's pick will join Rush, Justice Steven David, Justice Mark Massa and Justice Geoffrey Slaughter on the court. Given the ages of the justices, Schumm says they could be together on the court for about 15 years.
Republicans have put President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee on the bench, and they're now in a position to fill dozens more federal judgeships — and reshape some of the nation's highest courts.
Democrats have few ways to stop them.
The Republicans' opportunity comes with the GOP in control of Congress and the White House, about 120 vacancies in federal district and appeals courts to be filled and after years of partisan fights over judicial nominations.
Frustrated by Republican obstruction in 2013, then-majority Democrats changed Senate rules so judicial nominations for those trial and appeals courts are filibuster-proof, meaning it takes only 51 votes, a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, for confirmation.
Today, Senate Republicans hold 52 seats.
The Democratic rules change did not apply to Supreme Court nominations. But Senate Republicans are now in the majority, and they changed the rules in similar fashion this month to confirm federal Judge Neil Gorsuch to the high court over Democratic opposition. As a result, the GOP can almost guarantee confirmation of future Supreme Court justices, as well, if there are more openings with Trump in office and Republicans are in the majority.
"The Trump administration does have an opportunity to really put its mark on the future of the federal judiciary," says Leonard Leo, the executive vice president of the conservative Federalist Society and an adviser to Trump on the Gorsuch nomination.
Reflecting a conservative judicial philosophy, Leo says the unusual number of vacancies that Trump is inheriting could reorient the courts of appeals, in particular, "in a way that better reflects the traditional judicial role, which is interpreting the law according to its text and placing a premium on the Constitution's limits on government power."
That philosophy was a priority for the late Justice Antonin Scalia, whom Gorsuch replaced, and Trump has said he wants the federal judiciary to reflect those values.
There are currently 20 vacancies in the federal appeals courts, which are one step below the Supreme Court, and roughly 100 more in district courts, where cases are originally tried. Former President Barack Obama had around half that number of vacancies when he took office in 2009. Of the current vacancies, 49 are considered judicial emergencies, a designation based on how many court filings are in the district and how long the seat has been open.
As the White House has focused on the Gorsuch nomination, Trump has so far only nominated one lower-court judge, Amul R. Thapar, a friend of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for the 6th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals.
The suspect in this week's racially motivated shooting rampage in Fresno shouted Friday that natural disasters will increasingly hit the United States as he was ushered into a cramped courtroom for his first appearance before a judge.
Kori Ali Muhammad, 39, was supposed to be officially informed about the first-degree murder charge he is accused of in the shooting death of an unarmed security guard.
Authorities have said he then killed three more people in the rampage, targeting white victims, before he was caught.
But the reading of the charge never happened because Muhammad had another outburst, yelling "Let black people go" and a phrase similar to "in reparations" that was not clearly enunciated.
His court appointed lawyer, Eric Christensen, then told the judge: "I believe this gentleman may not be mentally competent to proceed."
Muhammad yelled again and the judge canceled the proceedings, setting bail at $2.6 million and ordering a mental evaluation for Muhammad.
Police have said Muhammad told them that learning he was wanted for the Williams' killing prompted him to try to kill as many white people as possible before he was caught.
He shot three other white men at random Tuesday, police said, including a Pacific Gas & Electric utility worker sitting in a truck and two men who had come out of a Catholic Charities building.
The highest court in Massachusetts has formally approved the dismissal of more than 21,000 drug convictions that were tainted by the misconduct of a former state drug lab chemist.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts says the final order from the Supreme Judicial Court on Thursday marks the single largest dismissal of convictions in U.S. history.
The action by the court was expected after seven district attorneys in eastern Massachusetts submitted lists on Tuesday totaling 21,587 cases they would be unwilling or unable to prosecute if new trials were ordered.
The cases were called into question when chemist Annie Dookhan was charged with tampering with evidence and falsifying drug tests. Dookhan pleaded guilty to perjury and other charges in 2013 and served a three-year prison sentence.
A white former South Carolina police officer charged in the death of an unarmed black motorist is expected in court as his federal trial approaches.
A motions hearing is scheduled Friday in the case against 35-year-old Michael Slager.
Slager's federal civil rights trial in the death of 50-year-old Walter Scott starts next month. Another hearing is scheduled for Monday, when attorneys will discuss the admission of certain experts to testify.
Last month, a federal judge ruled prosecutors may show jurors video of the former North Charleston officer shooting Scott. The bystander's cellphone video was viewed millions of times around the world.
Slager also faces murder charges in state court, where his first trial ended in a hung jury. His retrial is scheduled for August.
Russia's Supreme Court has banned the Jehovah's Witnesses from operating in the country, accepting a request from the justice ministry that the religious organization be considered an extremist group.
The court ordered the closure of the group's Russia headquarters and its 395 local chapters, as well as the seizure of its property.
The Interfax news agency on Thursday quoted Justice Ministry attorney Svetlana Borisova in court as saying that the Jehovah's Witnesses "pose a threat to the rights of the citizens, public order and public security."
The Jehovah's Witnesses claim more than 170,000 adherents in Russia. The group has come under increasing pressure over the past year, including a ban on distributing literature deemed to violate Russia's anti-extremism laws.
Under tight security, Pakistan's top court is to deliver a much-awaited decision on Thursday on corruption allegations against Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's family which could determine his political future.
If the Supreme Court announces punitive measures against Sharif or his family members as part of the decision, it may lead to a crisis in government. In 2012, the same court convicted then-Premier Yusuf Raza Gilani in a contempt case, forcing him to step down.
Thursday's decision will be the outcome of petitions from opposition lawmakers dating back to documents leaked in 2016 from a Panama-based law firm that indicated Sharif's sons owned several offshore companies.
Sharif's family has acknowledged owning offshore businesses.
The opposition wants Sharif, in power since 2013, to resign over tax evasion and concealing foreign investment. Sharif has defended his financial record.
Information Minister Maryam Aurangzeb told reporters the government will "accept the court decision."
Naeemul Haq, a spokesman for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party is leading the petition, said the decision will be an "historic one."
Lawyer A.K. Dogar, who is not involved in the probe by the Supreme Court or the petition, said the decision could determine the political fate of Sharif.
Senior opposition politician Mehnaz Rafi, from Khan's party, told The Associated Press she hopes the decision will help recover tax money from Sharif's family and others who set up offshore companies to evade taxes. If the court finds Sharif's family evaded paying taxes, she said he should resign as he will no longer have "moral authority to remain in power."
The prime minister has insisted his father built up the family business before Sharif entered politics in the 1980s. Sharif says he established a steel mill abroad while he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999.