The Pfeifles must be buttering the right bread. In April, Governor Dennis Daugaard appointed Jane Wipf Pfeifle as a judge in the Seventh Circuit. She joined her husband Craig Pfeifle on the Seventh Circuit bench.
Then Thursday, Chief Justice David Gilbertson appointed Craig Pfeifle as presiding judge of the Seventh Circuit. The appointment surprised many, because Pfeifle replaces Judge Jeff Davis, who didn’t resign from the job and is still judging in the Seventh Circuit.
Judge Davis is a defendant in the federal lawsuit in which Lakota plaintiffs contend that Davis and the state have engaged in systematic suppression of American Indian parental rights in child custody hearings, in violation of the Indian Child Welfare Act. So far, Davis and the state are losing that lawsuit.
Judge Davis insists his demotion has nothing to do with the ICWA lawsuit:
A disagreement between 7th Circuit Judge Jeff Davis and South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson is behind the abrupt change in leadership for the circuit, Davis said on Friday.
…”The change in presiding judge is the result of an internal dispute between Justice Gilbertson and myself over space issues in the Pennington County Courthouse,” Davis told the Journal. “It has absolutely nothing to do with the federal lawsuit or the Judicial Qualifications Commission.”
Davis declined to give details of the dispute between himself and Gilbertson.
…”Ordinarily, I wouldn’t have any comment, but the federal lawsuit involving children is too important to be dragged into this,” Davis said [Andrea J. Cook, “Davis: Dispute with SD Chief Justice Prompted Loss of 7th Circuit Leadership Post,” Rapid City Journal, 2015.05.23].
The cynics among us may be inclined to believe that a spat over courthouse space would be more likely to result in South Dakota officials whacking a judge than concerns over discrimination against Indians. But whatever the cause, folks concerned about South Dakota’s ICWA non-compliance can take some satisfaction in seeing one of the main players in that non-compliance getting a little come-down-ance.