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Judicial screening commissioner: Identity politics fuels critics of ‘white, Christian, cisgendered’ Montgomery

By: - July 26, 2019 12:49 pm

Bill Montgomery and Kathryn Townsend. Photos by Gage Skidmore/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 and Facebook

One of the newest members of the commission that vets Arizona Supreme Court candidates said that she believes much of the opposition to Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery’s candidacy is due to the fact he’s a “conservative, white, Christian, cisgendered, heterosexual male.”

Kathryn Townsend, whom Gov. Doug Ducey appointed this year to the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, made the comments on Friday as the panel was discussing its views on the candidates for the Supreme Court vacancy opened up by the retirement of Chief Justice Scott Bales.

Townsend noted that Mongtomery’s candidacy has been controversial, and that the commission has received many letters both for against him. She said she read the comments, reached out to many people, watched videos of news reports and legislative hearings, and read more than 1,000 pages of documents in an attempt to find the truth about the criticism of the county attorney.

What made things difficult, she said, is that for every criticism of Montgomery, there was a supporter to refute the claims against him. While some people said that, as members of minority communities, they found his candidacy concerning, others said as members of minority groups they thought he would be a great justice, she said. 

And while some argued that Mongtomery doesn’t care about the rights of people accused of crimes, she said others said he cared a great deal.

One person Townsend spoke to said many of Montgomery’s opponents don’t really know him and are only responding to a caricature of him, she said. Townsend said she believes that’s true. And she reached her own conclusion about the people opposed to Montgomery’s conclusion as well.

“I think a lot of the people who don’t like his candidacy, frankly, and I know this isn’t politically correct but I’ll say it anyway, don’t like him because he is a conservative, white, Christian, cisgendered, heterosexual male,” Townsend said. “You can look at the letters that we’ve got and see that. We’ve literally got people who say he shouldn’t be on the court because he’s a conservative, he shouldn’t be on the court because of his worldview.”

And while some people have told the commission that people will question the Supreme Court’s fairness if Montgomery becomes a justice, Townsend said if the commission doesn’t pick him as one of its nominees for the seat, “there are going to be people who think that didn’t happen because he didn’t have the right identity politics. And that’s troubling.”

The commission must send at least three candidates to Ducey, who will decide which nominee will join the Supreme Court. The candidates must not all be from the same political party.

Montgomery didn’t make the cut in March, when the commission voted 5-7 on his nomination. Since then, Ducey has replaced at least two commissioners who voted against him. Townsend, an independent who was previously registered to vote as a Republican.

The panel will interview Montgomery Friday afternoon and will decide which candidates to forward to Ducey by the end of the day.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Jeremy Duda previously served as the Mirror's associate Editor. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”