Without a public hearing or discussion of its cost, lawmakers added language to the Appropriations Act repealing the statute mandating Nevada’s Supreme Court shrink from seven to five members.
The language in NRS2.010 says the high court must be reduced if and when an Intermediate Appellate Court is approved by the voters.
Voters did just that last November, creating an appellate court consisting of three justices. That court is already in business, expedited by Chief Justice Jim Hardesty.
Going forward, as terms of the current justices expire, the statute would mandate that, “the supreme court shall consist of a chief justice and four associate justices.”
The language was passed in 1997 in trade for expanding the high court from five to seven justices and authorizing them to hear cases in three-judge panels instead of “en banc.”
Lawmakers and the court reasoned at the time that, with an appellate court in place, the Supreme Court could operate effectively with five members.
When the statute was made public earlier this year, Hardesty said whether or not the Legislature saw fit to change that statute was a policy decision up to that body.
While the court might make an effective case for maintaining seven members because of the growing caseload, there was no public discussion or hearings about removing the statute.
The repeal language simply showed up on Sunday, day 119 of the 120-day session, in the “back language” of the primary budget bill, the Appropriations Act.
Under the state’s budget act, the proper procedure for handling that situation would be for the Supreme Court to present its requested 2018-2019 budget with funding for a five-justice high court included, and then present the “expansion” of the court back to seven members in a separate decision unit.
That decision unit would spell out the cost of adding back the two justices and their staffs — which would be in excess of $500,000 a year — and let lawmakers clearly see the impact.
Senate Majority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas — a lawyer — referred questions about the repeal language to Finance Chairman Ben Kieckhefer, R-Reno.
“We did nothing illegal,” said Kieckhefer when asked about it.