February 2, 1848
Under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ends the Mexican-American War, Mexico cedes land that forms much of the present day southwestern United States.
September 9, 1850
Formation of New Mexico Territory
The Territory of New Mexico is formed from land ceded to the United States under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and includes much of present-day Arizona.
December 30, 1853
The Gadsden Purchase
The United States purchases additional territory from Mexico that includes Tucson and other areas now part of southern Arizona.
December 19, 1859
No territorial government
In his State of the Union address, President James Buchanan complains that Arizona is “practically destitute of government, of laws, or of any regular administration of justice. Murder, rapine, and other crimes are committed with impunity.” President Buchanan urges Congress to establish a territorial government for Arizona.
March 28, 1861
Confederate Territory of Arizona
On the eve of the Civil War, citizens of southern Arizona and southern New Mexico adopt a “secession ordinance” and establish a provisional government for the Confederate Territory of Arizona. This territory is officially recognized by the Confederate States of America on February 12, 1862. Confederate control is short-lived, however, and Union troops force the Confederate territorial government to retreat to Texas in July 1862.
February 24, 1863
Arizona Organic Act
President Abraham Lincoln signs the Arizona Organic Act, which creates the Territory of Arizona and abolishes slavery within its boundaries. Few, if any, slaves, however, were in the Arizona territory; the 1860 census identified twenty-four slaves (out of a total population of 93,541) in all of what is now Arizona and New Mexico.
June 30, 1863
Arizona Territorial Courts
Three territorial judges are appointed by the President with the consent of the Senate. They serve for four year terms as both the justices on the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court and as trial judges for three geographic districts within the Territory.
November 15, 1864
First Territorial Code
William T. Howell, a Michigan resident who moved to Arizona after being appointed as an Associate Justice to the Arizona Territorial Supreme Court, drafts a proposed territorial code. He bases the code on New York, California, Mexican, and Spanish law. The Howell Code is quickly adopted by the territorial legislature. Howell Code (PDF - 41MB)
June 30, 1892
Sarah Herring Sorin
Sarah Herring Sorin becomes the first woman admitted to practice law in the Territory of Arizona. In 1913, she would become the first woman to argue a case unassisted by a male before the U.S. Supreme Court. Arizona Women's Hall of Fame
December 10, 1910
Arizona Constitutional Convention
Arizona’s Constitution is approved by Arizona voters. The Constitution reflects the early twentieth century Progressive Movement in American politics. This influence is shown by the Constitution’s protections of individual rights and its provisions providing for voter initiative and referendum, recall of elected officials, public utility regulation, establishment of a strong public-school system, and protection of the rights of workers and the right to sue for personal injury.
Statehood is delayed, however, by a provision in the proposed constitution allowing the recall of judges. President Taft vetoes statehood because of this provision. Arizona’s voters in 1911 approve a revised constitution omitting judicial recall, and Taft agrees to approve statehood.
November 5, 1912
Judicial Recall Reinstated by Voters
Arizona voters approve a state constitutional amendment to reinstate the provisions for judicial recall by a margin of 5 to 1 (16,272 for and 3,705 against). In the presidential election, President Taft finishes fourth among Arizona voters, receiving fewer votes than Socialist candidate Eugene V. Debs.
November 5, 1912
Women Win Right to Vote
Women win the right to vote through an initiative measure. Arizona is one of fifteen states granting women the right to vote before suffrage is obtained nationally in 1920.
November 01, 1915
Truax v. Raich
The U.S. Supreme Court decides Truax v. Raich, 239 U.S. 33 (1915), holding that an Arizona law requiring 80% of an employer’s employees to be “qualified electors or native-born citizens of the United States” violates the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of “the equal protection of the laws.”
December 24, 1917
The official 1916 election results give Republican Thomas Campbell the victory by thirty votes over incumbent governor George W. P. Hunt, a Democrat who has held office since statehood. Hunt contests the election but loses in the trial court. On Christmas Eve, 1917, the Arizona Supreme Court, after reviewing numerous disputed ballots, rules that Hunt has won the election. Campbell surrenders the office and Hunt completes the term through 1918. Hunt v. Campbell, 19 Ariz. 254, 169 P. 596 (1917); Campbell v. Hunt, 18 Ariz. 442, 162 P. 882 (1917).
Campbell successfully runs for governor again in 1918 and 1920. He was the first native-born Arizonan to serve as governor.
Approval Ballistics Evidence
In a notorious murder case in which the defendant shot and wounded a man who had given him a ride and killed the man’s wife, the Arizona Supreme Court upholds the admission of ballistics testimony, the first state supreme court decision on this issue. Hadley v. State, 25 Ariz. 23, 212 P. 458 (1923).
Winnie Ruth Judd Trial
Winnie Ruth Judd, the famous “trunk murderess,” is convicted and sentenced to death. The next year she is found to be insane and her sentence is commuted. Her lawyer is Ernest W. McFarland.
Grateful to her lawyer, when McFarland is later elected governor in 1954, Judd promises not to give him any trouble by attempting to escape. By then, she had previously escaped from the state mental hospital seven times, but she kept her word to McFarland.
Arizona State Bar
Legislation establishes the Arizona State Bar and requires membership by Arizona lawyers. Currently, the Bar is organized under the constitutional authority of the Arizona Supreme Court to regulate the practice of law in Arizona. Read more about the history of the Arizona State Bar.
Earnest McFarland - US Senator
Ernest W. McFarland is elected to the U.S. Senate. He is the only Arizonan to serve as a U.S. Senator (1941–1953), Governor (1955–1959), and a Justice on the Arizona Supreme Court (1965–1971).
July 15, 1948
Harrison v. Laveen
The Arizona Supreme Court decides Harrison v. Laveen, 67 Ariz. 337, 196 P.2d 456 (1948). Recognizing that Native Americans should be allowed to vote in Arizona elections, the Court overrules prior case law holding that Native Americans are barred by the Arizona Constitution from voting because they are “under guardianship” by the federal government.
November 7, 1950
Annual Legislative Sessions
Voters amend the state constitution to allow annual legislative sessions instead of sessions every other year.
March 26, 1951
Gonzales v. Sheely
In Gonzales v. Sheely, 96 F.Supp. 1004 (D. Ariz. 1951), the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona rules that the Tolleson Elementary School District’s practice of forcing Hispanic students to attend segregated schools is unconstitutional. The Hispanic students are “entitled to equal accommodations, advantages and privileges in the Public Schools in the State of Arizona and to equal rights and treatment with other persons as citizens of the United States. . . .”
2010 Phoenix Magazine Article on Classroom Crusaders
Phillips vs. Phoenix Union High Schools
Phillips vs. Phoenix Union High Schools is decided by Judge Fred C. Struckmeyer, Jr. of the Maricopa County Superior Court. Writing that "a half century of intolerance is enough," the court rules that the Arizona law permitting school boards to segregate pupils was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power. The decision issues fourteen months before the U.S. Supreme Court decides Brown v. Board of Education (1954).
At the time, Carver High School is the only legally segregated high school in Arizona. Phillips is filed by Hayzel B. Daniels, the first African-American to pass the Arizona bar examination and one of the first two African-Americans elected to the Arizona legislature, and prominent Phoenix attorney Herbert B. Finn. Neither lawyer is paid for his work; Daniels pays the court filing fee himself.
Struckmeyer later would serve as a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court from 1955 to 1982.
September 29, 1953
State ex rel. Jones v. Lockhart
In one of the closest special elections in Arizona history (30,157 votes in favor, 29,713 votes against), Arizona voters approve a constitutional amendment providing for each county to be represented in the state legislature by two senators and one or more representatives, depending on the number of votes cast in the county. In December, the Arizona Supreme Court unanimously upholds the amendment in State ex rel. Jones v. Lockhart, 76 Ariz. 390, 265 P.2d 447 (1953).
Heard v. Davis
Heard v. Davis is decided by Judge Charles C. Bernstein of the Maricopa County Superior Court, who rules that segregation of elementary school students violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Hayzel B. Daniels and Herbert B. Finn represent the plaintiffs.
Bernstein later would serve as a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court from 1959 to 1969.
Williams v. Lee
In a landmark decision regarding Indian law, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that state courts do not have jurisdiction over a reservation-based contract dispute between a non-Indian and an Indian living on the reservation. Williams v. Lee, 358 U.S. 217 (1959).
Raul H. Castro becomes the first Hispanic judge elected to Superior Court in Arizona. He later serves as ambassador to three Latin American countries and is elected governor of Arizona in 1974.
Watch an interview with Governor Castro.
Lorna Lockwood, after serving ten years on the superior court, is the first woman elected to the Arizona Supreme Court. A justice from 1961 to 1975, in 1965 she becomes the first female chief justice of any state’s supreme court. In 1925, she had been the first woman to receive a law degree from the University of Arizona and the only woman in her thirteen-person class.
To learn more about Lockwood's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
Modern Courts Amendment
Voters approve the Modern Courts Amendment to Article 6 of the Arizona Constitution. This amendment is the basis for the current structure of Arizona’s judicial branch. Among other things, it increased the number of Supreme Court justices from three to at least five, it authorized the creation of a court of appeals, it made the Supreme Court responsible for rulemaking and administrative oversight for all state courts, and it set a mandatory retirement age of 70 for judges on the superior court, the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court.
June 3, 1963
Arizona v. California
The U.S. Supreme Court decides Arizona v. California, 373 U.S. 546 (1963), a landmark case regarding Arizona’s entitlement to water from the Colorado River. Decided after eleven years of litigation and a trial involving 25,000 pages of transcripts, the case helped ensure water for Arizona’s future growth.
Arizona Court of Appeals
The Arizona Legislature establishes the Court of Appeals.
Hayzel B. Daniels
Hayzel B. Daniels is appointed Phoenix City Court judge in 1965, becoming the first African-American judge in Arizona.
In 1948 he was the first African American to graduate from the University of Arizona Law School and to be admitted to the Arizona State Bar. In 1950, he and Carl Sims were the first African Americans elected to the Arizona legislature. As a lawmaker and an attorney, Daniels fought against school segregation, successfully arguing Phillips v. Phoenix Union High School District and Heard v. Davis. Daniels also served as the first African-American Assistant Arizona State Attorney General.
To learn more about Daniels' career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
June 13, 1966
Miranda v. Arizona
Ernesto Miranda was convicted of abduction and rape by a Phoenix jury and the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed, finding that he had voluntarily made incriminating statements to police after his arrest. State v. Miranda, 98 Ariz. 11, 401 P.2d 716 (1965). Reversing the convictions in a 5-4 landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court holds that statements made by a suspect in response to custodial interrogations cannot be admitted unless the suspect is advised of his rights to counsel and to remain silent. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966).
Listen to a recording of the Miranda argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
February 2, 1966
Klahr v. Goddard
The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona orders the redrawing of the state’s congressional districts in order to comply with the principle of “one man, one vote” established by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reynolds v. Sims, 377 U.S. 533 (1964). Klahr v. Goddard, 250 F. Supp. 537, 541 (D. Ariz. 1966)
May 15, 1967
In re Gault
The U.S. Supreme Court holds that juveniles in delinquency proceedings are entitled to certain rights (such as the right to counsel) afforded adults in criminal trials. In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967). The decision affects juvenile proceedings in courts throughout the nation.
Executive Terms to Four Years
Arizona voters approve a constitutional amendment increasing the term of office to four years for various state executive offices, including the governor, secretary of state, state auditor, state treasurer, attorney general and superintendent of public instruction.
January 7, 1972
William H. Rehnquist
January 7, 1972. William H. Rehnquist takes his seat on the U.S. Supreme Court, becoming the first Arizonan appointed to the Court. Rehnquist practiced law in Phoenix from 1953 to 1969 and had worked on Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign.
To learn more about Rehnquist's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
Judicial Merit Selection
Voters amend Article 6 of the Arizona Constitution to adopt merit selection and retention elections for justices, state appellate judges, and superior court judges in Maricopa and Pima counties.
Francis X. Gordon
Mohave Superior Court Judge Francis X. Gordon is the first justice appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court under the merit selection system. Justice Gordon would serve until 1992, including serving as Chief Justice from 1987-92.
To learn more about Gordon's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
Thomas Tang is appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, becoming the first Chinese American on the federal court bench.
To learn more about Tang's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
October 3, 1977
Bates v. State Bar of Arizona
The U.S. Supreme Court decides Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977), holding that a ban on lawyer advertising violates the First Amendment. In 1976, Arizona lawyers John Bates and Van O’Steen place a newspaper advertisement listing their fees for certain legal services. They are censured for violating an Arizona Supreme Court prohibiting lawyer advertising. Their successful appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court opens the door to lawyer advertising nationwide.
Listen to Bates argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.
April 30, 1979
Valdemar Aguirre Cordova
April 30, 1979. Valdemar Aguirre Cordova is appointed by President Jimmy Carter to be a judge on the U.S. District Court of Arizona, becoming the first Mexican-American on the federal court bench.
To learn more about Cordova's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
Valdemar A. Cordova: A Life in the Law
Joe W. Contreras
Joe W. Contreras becomes the first Hispanic Judge on the Court of Appeals.
September 21, 1981
Sandra Day O'Connor
Sandra Day O’Connor is confirmed by the Senate and becomes the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court after being appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
From 1969 to 1974, O’Connor served in the Arizona state senate, becoming the first female majority leader in the United States. In 1974, she was elected as a judge on the Maricopa County Superior Court, and in 1978, she was appointed to the Arizona Court of Appeals by Governor Bruce Babbitt.
To learn more about O'Connor's career, visit Legends of the Arizona Judiciary, which includes a documentary video, biography and discussion questions.
April 4, 1988
After having run unsuccessfully four times, Evan Mecham is elected governor in 1986. During his turbulent tenure, Mecham is the subject of a recall campaign. Before the recall election can be held, however, he is impeached on charges that he had concealed a campaign contribution, misused a state protocol fund, and obstructed justice. The Arizona Senate finds him guilty of high crimes and misdemeanors and Mecham becomes the only Arizona Governor to be removed by impeachment.
In the Matter of the Impeachment of Evan Mecham, Governor of the State of Arizona, Before the Senate of the State of Arizona Sitting as a Court of Impeachment (1988); Mecham v. Gordon, 156 Ariz. 297, 751 P.2d 957 (1988).
Judicial Merit Selection
Voters revise the merit selection system adopted in 1974 to increase the non-lawyer members on judicial nominating committees, make the nominating process more public, and direct that the nominating committees and Governor consider diversity in the appointment of judges.
The 1992 amendments also mandate periodic review of the performance of appointed judges. This review is implemented by the Commission on Judicial Performance Review. Read more about the Commission and its reports for particular judges.
Voters approve term limits for state officers, limiting legislators to four consecutive two-year terms (but allowing legislators to serve in the other house of the legislature or to serve again after waiting for one term out of office) and limiting the governor and other executive branch officials to two four-year terms. Ariz. Const. Art. 4 Pt. 2 § 21; Ariz. Const. Art.5, § 1.
Clean Elections Act
Voters approve the “Citizens Clean Elections Act,” which allows public campaign financing for candidates for statewide office or the legislature who collect a certain minimum of $5 contributions.
Although challenged in state and federal court, the Clean Elections Act is implemented for elections beginning in 2000. In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court rules 5-4 that provisions of the Act that increase public financing for candidates based on spending by or in support of their opponents (the “matching fund provision”) violate the First Amendment.
Arizona Free Enterprise v. Bennett (PDF).
Voter Protection Initiative
Voters approve an initiative amending the Arizona Constitution to prohibit the legislature from modifying voter-approved laws unless the modification “furthers the purposes” of the law and only if the legislature approves the change by a three-fourths majority. Ariz. Const. Art. 4, Pt. 1, § 1(6). The amendment was in reaction to the legislature’s amending a 1996 citizen-sponsored initiative related to punishment for possessing drugs.
Independent Redistricting Commission
Voters approve an initiative amending the Arizona Constitution to provide that a five-person Independent Redistricting Commission will draw boundaries for legislative and congressional districts after each decennial census.
Ruth V. McGregor
Ruth V. McGregor, appointed to the Arizona Supreme Court in 1998, becomes the second woman to serve as Chief Justice. That same year, she receives the Dwight D. Opperman Award of Judicial Excellence from the American Judicature Society.
Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting
Arizona adopts a bill imposing sanctions on employers who knowingly or intentionally employ illegal immigrants. The new law is challenged in federal court, but is ultimately upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in Chamber of Commerce of U.S. v. Whiting, 131 S. Ct. 1968 (2011).
Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting (PDF).
February 14 2012
Since statehood, forty-two persons have served as justices on Arizona’s Supreme Court. For information about the current and former justices, visit Arizona Justices.