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Judicial Selection in the States

Overview

Alabama

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Robert Vance Jr. said he wouldn t be in the race for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice if former Chief Justice...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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The Alabama judiciary is composed of three appellate courts--the supreme court, the court of civil appeals, and the court of criminal appeals--and four trial courts--the circuit, district, probate, and municipal courts. The circuit court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Judges in Alabama are chosen in partisan elections. When judicial vacancies occur between elections, the governor appoints judges to fill those seats. In some counties, appointments are made from a list of names provided by a judicial nominating commission.

Judicial races in Alabama became increasingly politicized in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because of the controversy over tort reform. The size of jury verdicts began to increase during this time, to the extent that Alabama was dubbed "Tort Hell" by Forbes magazine. The legislature passed a tort reform package in 1987, but many of its provisions were declared unconstitutional by the Alabama Supreme Court during the early 1990s. As judicial races took on heightened significance, campaign fundraising became more important. Between 1986 and 1996, expenditures by supreme court candidates grew by 776%. As campaigns became more expensive, they also became more contentious. The 1996 elections were dubbed "the year of the skunk" because of an ad run by an incumbent supreme court justice that alluded to his opponent and featured pictures of a skunk, accompanied by the caption "Some things you can smell a mile away."

Following the 1996 elections, the Alabama Supreme Court created a judicial campaign oversight committee to advise candidates regarding campaign conduct during the 1998 elections. Because of the committee's success in improving judicial campaign conduct in 1998, committees were also established for the 2000, 2006, and 2008 elections. For more information on Alabama's judicial campaign oversight committee, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.

Alaska

The White House announced Wednesday evening that President Barack Obama is nominating Alaska Supreme Court Justice Morgan Christen to the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Alaska judiciary is composed of two appellate courts--the supreme court and the court of appeals, and two trial courts--the superior court and the district court. Alaska is one of only two states that has used a merit selection system since gaining statehood to choose its judges. According to minutes from Alaska's constitutional convention, delegates wanted a system that focused on objective qualifications and minimized the influence of politics on judicial selection. Alaska was also the first state to establish an official judicial performance evaluation program to provide information to voters in retention elections. In 2008, the Alaska Judicial Council released a report on the Council's role on the state's judicial selection and evaluation process, Selecting and Evaluating Alaska's Judges, 1984-2007.

Arizona

AZ high court nixes judicial appointment process change
September 17, 2013 :: Maricopa Monitor/Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX Saying legislators acted unconstitutionally, the Arizona Supreme Court on Friday voided a measure designed to give Gov. Jan Brewer and her successors more choices...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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The Arizona judiciary is composed of three courts of general jurisdiction--the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the superior court. Appellate judges and superior court judges in Maricopa and Pima Counties are chosen through merit selection. After an initial two-year term, judges must stand for retention. Superior court judges in smaller counties are chosen in nonpartisan elections.

In 1992, Arizona voters approved Proposition 109, which called for the adoption of a process for evaluating judicial performance. Arizona is the only state with a constitutionally mandated judicial performance evaluation program. Judicial performance review in Arizona is intended to provide the public with information about judges who are standing for retention and to encourage judicial self-evaluation and improvement. For more information about Arizona's judicial performance evaluation program, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.

Arkansas

Appeals court judge announces bid for state Supreme Court
May 23, 2011 :: Arkansas New Bureau

Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge Raymond Abramson of Holly Grove referred to himself as a country lawyer and quoted the Bible while explaining today why...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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In the November 2000 elections, Arkansas voters adopted a new judicial article, known as Amendment 80. The new article called, in part, for consolidation of Arkansas’ law and equity courts. The Arkansas judiciary now has four levels: the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit courts, and the district courts. The circuit courts are general jurisdiction trial courts, and the district courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction.

The new article also provided for nonpartisan election of judges. Prior to Amendment 80, judicial candidates ran in partisan primaries and were identified on the general election ballot as members of political parties. This reform was over thirty years in the making. Since 1970, advocates of judicial reform in Arkansas had urged the legislature to alter its system of selecting judges. Many of these groups favored merit selection of appellate court judges and nonpartisan election of trial court judges. However, merit selection encountered widespread opposition–from judges and ex-judges who sincerely believed in judicial elections, from legislators, and from members of the media who felt that merit selection was a conspiracy of the legal profession against the public. Amendment 80 forged a compromise, providing that judges would be selected on nonpartisan ballots and that the legislature could refer the issue of merit selection of appellate judges to the voters at any general election.

California

Judges hold considerable sway over the lives of those in their courtrooms. But the average voter either has no clue how to assess judicial candidates...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The California judiciary consists of the supreme court, the courts of appeal, and the superior court. According to California's constitution, judges of the supreme court and courts of appeal are nominated by the governor and must be confirmed by the commission on judicial appointments, which consists of the chief justice, the attorney general, and a presiding justice of the courts of appeal. Since 1979, the legislature has required that the State Bar of California's commission on judicial nominees evaluation conduct a thorough investigation of the background and qualifications of prospective nominees, but the governor is not bound by the commission's recommendations. Appellate judges must stand for retention in the next gubernatorial election after their appointment. Appellate judges serve twelve-year terms.

Superior court judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections for six-year terms. The governor fills vacancies on the superior court by appointment. As with appellate court appointments, prospective nominees must first be investigated by the commission on judicial nominees evaluation. The vast majority of superior court judges initially reach the bench via gubernatorial appointment, and once on the bench, incumbents are rarely challenged for reelection.

In many states, judicial retention elections are low-key affairs, with judges facing little, if any, organized opposition. Over the years, retention elections for appellate justices in California have been the exception to this rule. In 1986, three justices, including the chief justice, were targeted for their rulings against the death penalty. A total of $11.5 million was spent campaigning for and against the justices, setting a record at that time for spending in a judicial election. In recent elections, justices have been targeted for their decisions in abortion cases, but efforts to unseat them have been unsuccessful. However, the margin of approval for state appellate justices in retention elections declined from an average of 76.8% in the 1980s to 60.1% in 1994.

Colorado

Complaint Against Colo. Bar Association Dismissed
March 8, 2011 :: Law Week Colorado

A judge dismissed on summary judgment Tuesday afternoon a campaign-finance complaint brought against the Colorado Bar Association and three other organizations by Clear The Bench...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Colorado judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Under Colorado's original constitution, judges were elected by the people, but in 1966, voters approved a constitutional initiative calling for merit selection of judges. Under Colorado's merit selection system, judges are appointed by the governor from a list of nominees submitted by a judicial nominating commission, and judges stand for retention at least two years after their appointment. In 1988, the Colorado general assembly created judicial performance commissions throughout the state to provide voters with information about the performance of judicial retention candidates.

Connecticut

Advocates Seek to Boost Number of Female Judges in Connecticut
August 24, 2012 :: Connecticut Law Tribune

Superior Court Judge Anna Ficeto got her first look at Connecticut's judiciary after her appointment in January, when she attended a training session for judges...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Connecticut judiciary is composed of a supreme court, an appellate court, a superior court, and a probate court. Connecticut adopted a merit plan for selecting judges in 1986. According to the plan, the judicial selection commission recommends qualified candidates to the governor for nomination. The governor's nominee must then be appointed by the general assembly. Judges serve eight-year terms and must be renominated and reappointed. The judicial selection commission also evaluates incumbent judges who seek reappointment.

Delaware

Del. judiciary openings abound
September 4, 2012 :: Delaware Online

If you want to be a judge in Delaware, now is a good time to be looking. In the coming months, four positions on the...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Delaware judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the superior court, the court of chancery, and various courts of limited jurisdiction. The supreme court is the state's appellate court, the superior court is the court of general law jurisdiction, and the court of chancery is the trial court of general equity jurisdiction. Courts of limited jurisdiction include the family court, the court of common pleas, the justice of the peace court, and the alderman’s courts.

Currently, Delaware judges are chosen through a merit selection process. Under the Delaware Constitution, judges are appointed by the governor with the consent of the senate. Since 1977, Delaware governors have adopted executive orders creating a judicial nominating commission to identify highly qualified candidates for judicial appointments. With the exception of justices of the peace, judges serve twelve years--one of the longest terms for state court judges in the United States. Unlike judges in other merit selection states, judges in Delaware do not run for retention; instead, they must be reappointed through the same process by which they were appointed. An interesting feature of the Delaware Constitution is the requirement that there be partisan balance within the Delaware judiciary.

District of Columbia

GOP Senator to Step Down, Paving Way for D.C. Judicial Nominee
December 6, 2012 :: The Blog of Legal Times

Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) announced today that he'll be leaving Congress in early January to lead The Heritage Foundation, the prominent conservative think tank. A...

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A set of tables that provide detailed information about selection...

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Until Congress passed the District of Columbia Court Reform and Criminal Procedure Act of 1970, the federal courts in D.C. exercised both federal and local jurisdiction. The 1970 legislation established the court of appeals and the superior court to assume responsibility for local jurisdiction. Judges of these courts are appointed to fifteen-year terms by the president with senate confirmation. The president appoints judges from lists submitted by the judicial nomination commission. Judges who seek reappointment to office upon the completion of their terms are evaluated by the judicial disabilities and tenure commission. Judges who are rated "well qualified" by the commission are automatically reappointed. Judges found to be "qualified" may be appointed by the president for an additional term, subject to senate confirmation. If the president chooses not to reappoint a "qualified" judge, or if the commission finds a judge "unqualified," the judicial nomination commission compiles a new list of candidates.

Federal

Obama nominates Meyer for federal judge in Conn.
June 7, 2013 :: New York News Day/AP

Quinnipiac University law professor Jeffrey Meyer, a former federal prosecutor who helped investigate the United Nations' oil-for-food program scandal in Iraq, was nominated Friday by...

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Courtesy of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

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Courtesy of the Administrative Office of U.S. Courts.

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According to Article II of the United States Constitution, the President "shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint" federal judges. According to Article III, federal judges enjoy life tenure and cannot be removed from office except through impeachment.

Florida

Diversity on the bench?
September 22, 2013 :: Ocala StarBanner

Judge Edwards-Stephens' impending retirement will leave the 5th Circuit with a few women but no minorities holding a gavel.

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Florida judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the district courts of appeal, the circuit courts, and the county courts. Appellate judges are chosen through a merit selection and retention process, and trial judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections. However, vacancies on the trial courts are filled by the governor from candidates recommended by a judicial nominating commission.

In 2000, a local option for merit selection and retention of trial judges appeared on the November ballot. In the months leading up to the election, proponents of merit selection and retention emphasized the number of disciplinary actions against elected judges and the potential for campaign contributions to tarnish the judiciary, while opponents stressed the right to vote for judges and the "closed door, elite" nature of the merit selection process. The Florida Bar spent $80,000 to promote the ballot measure, and another group, Citizens for Judicial Integrity, raised $37,000. The measure also received support in numerous editorials. Opposition to the measure came from the state's minority and women's bar associations, who worried that their gains on the bench would be diminished under merit selection. Members of these organizations formed Citizens for an Open Judiciary and spent approximately $75,000. Both sides offered speakers to address public gatherings and participate in debates. Two debates were sponsored by the American Bar Association and the American Judicature Society. Ultimately, the measure was rejected in every jurisdiction. The average affirmative vote was only 32%.

Georgia

Yesterday I noted that the Virginia Senate is considering changing, but not eliminating, the power of that state s governor with respect to some interim...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Georgia judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a superior court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, but mid-term vacancies are filled through gubernatorial appointment. Since 1972, Georgia governors have established by executive order judicial nominating commissions to recommend candidates to fill the vacancies. The vast majority of Georgia judges are initially appointed to the bench and compete in contested elections to retain their seats.

Until recently, Georgia prohibited judicial candidates from personally soliciting campaign contributions and public endorsements. In 2002, however, a federal court of appeals struck down that provision of Georgia's code of judicial conduct, along with a provision that barred judicial candidates from making misleading statements. According to the court, "the distinction between judicial elections and other types of elections has been greatly exaggerated, and we do not believe that the distinction, if there truly is one, justifies greater restriction on speech during judicial campaigns than during other types of campaigns." Weaver v. Bonner, 309 F.3d 1312, 1321 (11th Cir. 2002). Supporters of the restriction on soliciting contributions are concerned that allowing judges to seek contributions from attorneys and other parties who may appear before them threatens the integrity of the judiciary. Some reformers are using the decision to advocate public financing of judicial campaigns.

Hawaii

List of 6 Maui Judicial Nominees Released
September 17, 2013 :: Maui Now

The Hawai?i Judiciary today released a list of six nominees identified by the Judicial Selection Commission to be considered for the Maui vacancy created by...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Hawaii judiciary consists of the supreme court, the intermediate court of appeals, and various trial courts, including the circuit court, the district court, and the family court. The circuit court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Hawaii judges are chosen through a variation of the merit selection process. The governor appoints judges of the appellate courts and the circuit court from a list of names submitted by the judicial selection commission, while the chief justice appoints district and family court judges from a commission list. Appointees must be confirmed by the senate. Upon the completion of their terms, judges may be retained by a majority vote of the members of the judicial selection commission.

Under Hawaii's original constitution, judges were appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the senate. The constitutional convention of 1978 approved an amendment calling for the establishment of the judicial selection commission to select judges based "solely on their qualifications and not on political patronage," and the amendment was ratified by voters later that year. The judicial selection commission began nominating candidates for judicial vacancies in 1979.

Idaho

Idaho Supreme Court Selects Burdick as Chief Justice
July 20, 2011 :: Magic Valley Times-News

A former Magic Valley judge has been selected as chief justice of Idaho s high court.

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Idaho judiciary is composed of three levels of courts--a supreme court, a court of appeals, and a district court. Judges of these courts are chosen in nonpartisan elections, in which judicial candidates may not be nominated or endorsed by a political party, appear on a party ticket, or list a party affiliation on the ballot. When a judge leaves office in the middle of his term, the governor is authorized to fill the vacancy from a list of names submitted by the Idaho Judicial Council.

Illinois

Our View: Choosing merit
February 15, 2013 :: Lake County New-Sun

This page long has called for merit selection of judges and the lamentable case of Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cynthia Brim is a poster...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Illinois judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the appellate court, and the circuit court. Illinois judges are initially chosen in partisan elections. Judges run in uncontested, nonpartisan retention elections to serve additional terms. Judges of the supreme court and appellate court serve ten-year terms; circuit court judges serve six-year terms.

In 2004, Illinois saw the most expensive judicial election campaign in history, with the two candidates for a district-based seat on the supreme court raising $9.3 million--more than was raised in 18 of the 34 U.S. Senate races that year. Major contributors included trial lawyers, labor leaders, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and the American Tort Reform Association. These groups had a vested interest in the outcome of this race. The judicial district represented by the seat includes Madison County, a jurisdiction that has become nationally known for large tort awards, and the justice who holds this seat has the authority to fill judicial vacancies that arise in the district's trial courts between elections. 

Indiana

Debate swells over Lake judicial selection
September 24, 2013 :: NWITimes.com

CROWN POINT | A St. John lawyer is challenging how Lake County picks its judges just as Gov. Mike Pence contemplates who he will name...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Indiana judiciary consists of three constitutional courts--the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the circuit court. Judges of the appellate courts are appointed by the governor from a list of three names submitted by the state judicial nominating commission, and judges of the circuit court are elected in partisan contests, with the governor filling mid-term vacancies through appointment. Appellate court judges serve ten-year terms, and circuit court judges serve six-year terms.

Other trial courts have been created by statute, including the superior courts, county courts, probate courts, town and city courts, and small claims courts. With the exception of some judges in four counties, the majority of these judges are chosen in partisan elections. In Vanderburgh County, elections for judges of the circuit and superior courts are nonpartisan. In Lake and St. Joseph Counties, superior court judges are chosen through a merit selection process; and in Allen County, elections for superior court judges are nonpartisan, and interim vacancies on the superior court are filled by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by a local judicial nominating commission.

Iowa

The Iowa judiciary is composed of two appellate courts--the supreme court and the court of appeals -- and the unified district court. Iowa judges are chosen through merit selection, where a nominating commission identifies a list of highly qualified candidates and the governor appoints a judge from that list. After one year in office, and then at regular intervals, judges stand in retention elections. Since Iowa adopted a merit plan with retention elections, seven judges have not been retained.

To educate voters regarding judges who are standing for retention, the web site of the Iowa judicial branch provides basic information such as year of appointment to the bench, prior legal experience, law school and undergraduate degrees, professional association memberships, and honors and awards. In addition, the Iowa State Bar Association conducts a poll asking its members whether they approve of judges who are up for retention. The results of the poll are made public prior to the election.

Kansas

Governor Sam Brownback s chief spokeswoman said Tuesday that the Kansas Senate s top Democrat has no grounds to suggest the swearing-in of Brownback s...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Kansas judiciary is composed of three levels of general jurisdiction courts---the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the district court. Kansas has a bifurcated system of judicial selection, in which appellate court judges are chosen through merit selection and district court judges are chosen through merit selection or partisan election, at the option of each district.

Kansas was first admitted to the Union in 1861, at a time when elected judiciaries were the norm. However, dissatisfaction with the close interplay between political parties and judicial selection led to a series of reform efforts to transform judicial selection into a nonpartisan process. These efforts succeeded in 1958, when Kansas voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing merit selection of supreme court justices. The amendment's success can be attributed to the intensive lobbying efforts of the Kansas Bar Association and the political scandal aptly titled the "triple play of 1956," in which the governor and chief justice resigned their positions with the understanding that the lieutenant governor--who would become the governor--would appoint the former governor as chief justice. 

The merit plan for supreme court justices was later extended to the court of appeals and the district court, with individual districts having the option to move to merit selection or maintain partisan elections. The majority of judicial districts in Kansas have chosen merit selection.

In 2013, the Kansas legislature voted to replace merit selection for the Court of Appeals with a system of gubernatorial appointment and senate confirmation. Governor Brownback signed the bill into law on March 27, 2013.

Kentucky

The local League of Women Voters will discuss a proposal that would make the election campaigns of Kentucky judges eligible for public financing.

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Kentucky judiciary consists of a supreme court, court of appeals, circuit court, and district court. A 1976 revision of the judicial article created a unified court system known as the court of justice and established nonpartisan elections for judges. Judges of the supreme court, court of appeals, and circuit court are elected to eight-year terms, and district court judges are elected to four-year terms. When a mid-term judicial vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement from a list submitted by a judicial nominating commission.

Louisiana

A lawyer for Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says a federal judge created confusion when she ruled in favor of state Supreme Court Justice Bernette Johnson...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Louisiana judiciary consists of three levels of general jurisdiction courts--the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the district court--and a number of limited jurisdiction trial courts. Louisiana judges are chosen in partisan elections. Judicial candidates initially run in a "blanket primary," in which candidates of both parties appear with party labels on the same ballot. The top two vote getters in the primary election run in the general election.

Maine

Maine lawmakers OK judicial nominee
August 18, 2010 :: Associated Press

Patrick Ende, chief legal counsel for Gov. John Baldacci and former advocate for low-income Mainers, was praised for his intellect and problem-solving skills Wednesday before...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Maine judiciary consists of a supreme judicial court, a superior court, a district court, and a probate court. The district and probate courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Maine's judicial selection process is similar to the process for selecting federal judges--judges are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the senate, but they serve seven-year terms rather than serving for life.

Maryland

Among the field of applicants for the soon-to-be vacant seat on Maryland s Court of Appeals, Judge Shirley Watts stands apart she is the only...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Maryland judiciary consists of a court of appeals, a court of special appeals, a circuit court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Under Maryland's constitution, judges are appointed by the governor and, except for circuit court judges, must be confirmed by the senate. Since 1970, Maryland governors have adopted executive orders creating judicial nominating commissions to recommend candidates for appointment. Appellate judges keep their seats through retention elections, but circuit court judges run in contested, nonpartisan elections.

Circuit court judges are usually unopposed for reelection. For example, before 2002, there had been no opposition to incumbent circuit judges in Montgomery County since 1986 and no contested general election races since 1958. In 2002, the committee to retain sitting judges was formed to support the reelection of the six incumbent judges on the ballot in Montgomery County. The committee distributed a campaign brochure that included photographs and biographies of the sitting judges, along with a statement of what the committee termed the "sitting judge principle." The judges' reelection and the sitting judge principle was endorsed by the central committees of the Republican and Democratic Parties of Maryland, the Maryland State Bar Association, and the AFL-CIO. The committee conducted similar campaigns when Montgomery County circuit court judges were opposed in 1970, 1974, 1984, and 1986. The 2002 effort was successful--all six incumbent judges kept their seats. In 2003, the Maryland State Bar Association voted to reaffirm its opposition to contested judicial elections, a position it has maintained for over three decades. In 2006, the Maryland Judicial Conference unsuccessfully introduced legislation that would have replaced nonpartisan elections for circuit court judges with retention elections after 15 years in office and every 10 years thereafter.

Massachusetts

BOSTON After years of job and service cuts, the worst may be over for the court budget and important jobs are being filled, the state's...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Massachusetts judiciary is composed of the supreme judicial court, the appeals court, and the trial court. Seven departments make up the trial court: the superior court, the district court, the Boston Municipal Court, the juvenile court, the housing court, the land court, and the probate and family court. Since 1780, Massachusetts judges have been appointed for life by the governor with the consent of the governor's council. Since 1975, Massachusetts governors have created nominating commissions by executive order to advise them in making judicial appointments.

Michigan

Secret money in judicial campaigns is a scandal
September 23, 2013 :: Bridge Magazine

How would you feel if you had a case in court and suddenly realized that the judge s campaign for office had been generously and...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Michigan judiciary consists of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, but supreme court candidates may be nominated at political party conventions or by nominating petition. Incumbents may simply file an affidavit of candidacy.

The 2008 race between a Rebublican incumbent chief justice and a Democratic challenger was characterized by the Justice at Stake Campaign as the "dirtiest" of the 26 high court contests in 15 states that year. Television ads run by the incumbent's supporters described his opponent as soft on terrorists and sexual predators, while ads aired on behalf of the challenger depicted the sitting chief justice as a pawn for big business and as literally sleeping on the job. Special interests paid for nearly three fourths of the TV ads in this campaign.

Minnesota

A bipartisan effort to retool how judges are elected in Minnesota is facing a fresh test as several Republican lawmakers are pulling back their support...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Minnesota judiciary consists of the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the district court. According to the constitution, judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, but many judges resign before their terms end, allowing the governor to appoint their replacements.

Until 2002, Minnesota's code of judicial conduct prohibited judges and judicial candidates from seeking or accepting political endorsements, discussing their views on disputed legal and political issues, and soliciting campaign contributions. The U.S. Supreme Court in 2002 and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 2005 struck down these provisions as violations of the First Amendment. Supporters of the decisions assert that allowing judicial candidates to share their views will provide voters with much needed information, but critics worry that it will threaten judge's impartiality. In 2007, a citizens commission headed by Governor Al Quie recommended that the state change its process for selecting judges from contested elections to a merit-based gubernatorial appointment system, and that the state adopt a judicial performance evaluation program for judges.

Mississippi

Mississippi Supreme Court candidates differ on PAC money
October 1, 2012 :: AP/Mississippi Press

State Rep. Earle Banks says his campaign is not taking money from political action committees as he runs for a state Supreme Court seat, but...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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Throughout its history, Mississippi has experimented with all methods of judicial selection. The state’s original constitution of 1817 left the selection of judges to the legislature. In 1832, Mississippi became the first state in the nation to establish popular elections for all judges, and in 1868, it became one of the first elective states to move away from the election of judges when it adopted gubernatorial appointment with senate confirmation. Popular elections were reinstated in 1910 and 1914 and have been maintained ever since. In 1994, the legislature passed the Nonpartisan Judicial Election Act, which changed the elections for most judicial offices from partisan to nonpartisan contests. For more information on Mississippi's move to nonpartisan judicial elections, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.

In recent years, both the legislature and the supreme court have enacted reforms aimed at improving the tone and conduct of judicial elections. In 1999, the legislature imposed limits on contributions to judicial candidates and strengthened disclosure requirements. In 2002, the supreme court amended the code of judicial conduct to allow litigants to file a motion to recuse a judge when an opposing party or attorney is a major donor to the judge’s election campaign. The amendments to the code also limit the period during which campaign contributions can be accepted and create a special committee on judicial election campaign intervention to address allegations of campaign misconduct. A 2002 proposed constitutional amendment that would have lengthened the terms of chancery and circuit court judges from four to six years was rejected by voters.

Missouri

Fight over judges likely to continue
November 9, 2012 :: The Associated Press

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Missouri judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, and a circuit court. In 1940, Missouri became the first state to adopt merit selection of judges. The Nonpartisan Selection of Judges Court Plan, which has come to be known as the Missouri Plan, has served as a model for the thirty-four other states that use merit selection to fill some or all judicial vacancies.

Prior to the adoption of the Nonpartisan Court Plan, judicial selection in Missouri was controlled by political machines and party bosses who sought to unseat judges who issued unfavorable rulings. Judges' positions were so tenuous under machine politics that from 1918 to 1941 only two supreme court justices were successful in their bids for reelection. Concerned citizens, judges, and lawyers organized an initiative petition effort to place the plan on the ballot. Less than 60 days after Missouri voters ratified the Nonpartisan Court Plan, legislative opponents introduced a resolution to submit the plan to voters again in the next election. In 1942, voters approved the plan by more than twice the earlier vote, and in 1945, voters adopted a new constitution that included the Nonpartisan Court Plan. Thus, in the first five years of the Nonpartisan Court Plan, voters indicated their approval on three separate occasions.

Montana

Judicial candidates talk experience, philosophies
October 10, 2012 :: Great Falls Tribune

Inside the Cascade County Courthouse, Greg Pinski and Steven Fagenstrom addressed the audience on why they should be elected to fill the judge s bench...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Montana judiciary consists of a supreme court, a district court, and various courts of limited jurisdiction. Supreme court and district court judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections. When interim vacancies occur, the governor appoints a candidate from a list submitted by the judicial nomination commission. Appointees must be confirmed by the senate.

In 1909, the Montana legislature passed the Nonpartisan Judiciary Act, prohibiting partisan filings by judicial candidates and requiring their nomination by citizen petition. The law was declared unconstitutional by the Montana Supreme Court in 1911 since it failed to provide any means for nominating candidates for newly created judgeships. State v. O'Leary, 115 P. 204 (Mont. 1911). In 1935, the legislature again made judicial elections nonpartisan, prohibiting political parties from endorsing, contributing to, or making expenditures to support or oppose judicial candidates. 

Nebraska

Kearney Group Tries to Unseat Three Local Judges
September 25, 2012 :: Nebraska TV

After a bitter custody battle last year, Jacob Sikes lost custody of his two children to his ex wife. I am a great father. That's...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Nebraska judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, a county court, and a worker's compensation court. Some counties also have a juvenile court. The district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. All Nebraska judges are appointed by the governor from a list submitted by a judicial nominating commission. Judges stand for retention in the next general election more than three years after their appointment and then every six years thereafter.

In 1996, David Lanphier became the first supreme court justice in Nebraska history not to be retained by the voters. Opposition to Lanphier coalesced around two supreme court decisions in which Lanphier was involved. One was a unanimous decision authored by Lanphier striking down a term limits amendment that had been approved by the voters. The other was a series of court rulings that reinserted malice as an element of second-degree murder, resulting in the overturning of a number of murder convictions. Term limits proponents and victims' rights advocates founded Citizens for Responsible Judges to oppose Lanphier's retention. Lanphier's supporters organized Nebraskans for an Impartial Judiciary to campaign on his behalf. Both sides spent a total of nearly $300,000. Citizens for Responsible Judges declined to comply with the state's campaign disclosure laws, arguing that judicial retention elections were not covered by the laws, and the supreme court later sided with the group. In 1998, the Nebraska Political Accountability and Disclosure Act was amended to specifically include "judicial retention election" among the electoral contests covered by the disclosure requirements.

Nevada

Chief judge: Glass' departure leaves holes to fill
May 31, 2011 :: Las Vegas Review-Journal

When District Judge Jackie Glass trades in the bench for a Hollywood soundstage to star in the syndicated CBS legal reality show Swift Justice, she...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Nevada judiciary consists of a supreme court, a district court, justices' courts, and municipal courts. The supreme court has mandatory appellate jurisdiction, and the district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections. An unusual feature of Nevada's judicial elections is that voters are given a "none of the above" option. In a 2002 supreme court race, nearly 78,000 voters marked "none of these candidates."

In 1996, voters rejected by a 70-30 margin a constitutional initiative that would have imposed term limits on Nevada judges. Under the proposal, judges could not be elected to the same court more than twice, or more than once if the judge had previously served on that court. Voters had approved the proposed amendment by the same 70-30 margin in 1994, but in the intervening two years, lawyers, judges, and concerned citizens mobilized to conduct a public education campaign in opposition to the measure. (In Nevada, constitutional amendments proposed by initiative petition must be approved by the voters in two consecutive general elections.)

In 2007 and 2009, the legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment calling for merit selection of Nevada judges. The proposal differed from the traditional Missouri Plan in two ways: retention election candidates would need 55% of the vote to remain in office, and a performance evaluation commission would review judges' records and issue a public report before they stood for retention. The proposed amendment was submitted to voters in 2010 but was rejected by a 58-42 margin. Voters rejected similar proposals in 1972 and 1988. 

New Hampshire

Judge sworn in as NH Supreme Court justice
December 17, 2010 :: Boston Globe

The top judge of New Hampshire's superior court will be sworn in as a justice of the state Supreme Court.

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The New Hampshire judiciary consists of a supreme court, a superior court, a district court, and a probate court. The district and probate courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. New Hampshire judges are nominated by the governor and confirmed by the executive council, a five-member body elected by the people to advise the governor. In 2000, Governor Shaheen became the first New Hampshire governor to create a judicial nominating commission by executive order. In 2005, Governor Lynch followed her example with an executive order creating a judicial selection commission.

In 2000, four justices of the New Hampshire Supreme Court came under fire. One justice resigned, two others faced impeachment hearings, and a fourth was impeached but not convicted. These events prompted a series of reform proposals, including the governor's judicial selection commission, aimed at strengthening the public's confidence in the judiciary. Two reform efforts succeeded: a requirement that justices of the supreme court serve as chief justice for rotating five-year terms based on seniority, and the creation of an independent disciplinary panel for judges. Failed proposals included the establishment of a judicial nominating commission by constitutional amendment or statute, renewable terms for judges, regular judicial performance review, and senate confirmation of judicial nominees.

New Jersey

The New Jersey Supreme Court, once viewed as a bastion of independent, if liberal, jurisprudence, risks a sharply diminished reputation if political battles over filling...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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New Jersey's judiciary has two appellate courts--the supreme court and the appellate division of the superior court, and three trial courts--the superior court, the tax court, and the municipal court. The superior court is the court of general jurisdiction. The governor, with the approval of the senate, chooses all judges in New Jersey. Judges stand for reappointment after seven years in office, and once reappointed, they serve until they reach the age of 70.

There are two interesting features of judicial selection in New Jersey. The first is the practice of senatorial courtesy. New Jersey's constitution of 1844 deliberately mirrored the judicial appointment process for federal judges. Like U.S. senators, New Jersey's senators have veto-like powers over judicial appointees from their home districts. As a professional courtesy, other senators will not proceed with confirmation of a judicial candidate unless the senators from the home district have signed off. Until 1994, senators had been able to hold up judicial reappointments as well, but a widely criticized incident led the senate to change the rules of reappointments so that they are now considered by the senate judiciary committee without receiving the approval of the home senator. Some in the state have suggested that the same procedures should apply to new appointments.

New Jersey's courts also have a tradition of political balance. Governors, regardless of their party affiliation, have generally followed a policy of replacing outgoing judges with someone of the same party or philosophy. On the supreme court, the traditional balance is three Democrats and three Republicans, with the chief justice belonging to the party of the appointing governor.

New Mexico

Judges make case before NM legislative panel for more funding
November 13, 2012 :: The Associated Press

SANTA FE, N.M. Some of New Mexico's top judges are trying to make a case for more court funding. Albuquerque television station KOB-TV reports (http://bit.ly/RSIsCS)...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The New Mexico judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. New Mexico judges were originally chosen in partisan elections, but in 1988, voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a hybrid system of judicial selection that includes merit selection, partisan elections, and retention elections. When a judicial vacancy occurs, the appropriate nominating commission recommends qualified candidates to the governor, and the governor makes an appointment. At the next general election, a contested partisan election is held to fill the seat for the remainder of the term. The successful candidate runs in retention elections thereafter. The threshold for retention is higher in New Mexico than in most other states; judges must receive at least 57% in affirmative votes to be retained.

New York

Three people have been nominated to run for one state Supreme Court judgeship in New York s seven-county Third Judicial District. Rensselaer County District Attorney...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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The structure of the New York judiciary is one of the most complex among the fifty states. There are courts that function throughout the state, including the court of appeals, the appellate division of the supreme court, the supreme court, the court of claims, the surrogate's court, and the family court. There are courts that operate only in New York City, such as the civil and criminal courts of the city of New York; there are courts that exist only outside of New York City, including county courts, city courts, and town and village justice courts; and there are district courts that reside in only two of the state's counties. Additional confusion is created by the fact that New York calls its major trial court the supreme court, a title given to the court of last resort in most other states.

Most of New York's trial court judges are chosen in partisan elections, with judicial candidates competing in primary elections to determine who will represent the party in the general election. According to statute, however, candidates for the supreme court (the major trial court) are chosen through a party convention system, in which primary voters elect convention delegates who choose candidates for the judgeships. Unsuccessful candidates for supreme court judgeships and a watchdog group recently challenged the constitutionality of this process, asserting that it discouraged party outsiders from seeking these seats, but in early 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the system in a unanimous decision (New York Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres). According to Justice Antonin Scalia, who authored the Court's opinion, "None of our cases establishes an individual's constitutional right to have a 'fair shot' at winning the party's nomination."

North Carolina

Judges: Public financing has been tested, works
June 9, 2013 :: Charlotte Observer

All but one of the 15 N.C. Court of Appeals judges judges who belong to both political parties have added their voices to the chorus...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The North Carolina judiciary consists of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the superior court, and the district court. Partisan elections for judges were established in 1868, but in recent years, the general assembly has moved to nonpartisan elections--for superior court judges in 1996, for district court judges in 2001, and for appellate court judges in 2002.

Nonpartisan elections for appellate court judges were one component of a major judicial selection reform package passed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2002. Known as the Judicial Campaign Reform Act, the act also gives appellate court candidates the option of public financing, provides for a voters guide on appellate court candidates, and lowers the limit on contributions to appellate court candidates to $1,000. North Carolina was the first state to adopt full public financing of judicial elections. Passage of the act resulted from the efforts of a broad coalition of groups and individuals known as North Carolina Voters for Clean Elections. Key organizational members of the coalition included the North Carolina Center for Voter Education, the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, the North Carolina Project of Democracy South (now Democracy North Carolina), and Common Cause/North Carolina.

North Dakota

Parrell Grossman has received the highest overall ranking from State Bar Association of North Dakota members of the four candidates running for an open seat...

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A set of tables that provide detailed information about selection...

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The North Dakota judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, and municipal courts. The court of appeals was created by the legislature on an experimental basis in 1987 to hear cases assigned by the supreme court. Its judges are chosen from among active and retired district court judges, retired supreme court justices, and attorneys. The supreme court and the district court are established in North Dakota's constitution, and since 1910, judges of these courts have been chosen in nonpartisan elections. Vacancies on these courts are filled by the governor from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating commission, or by special election.

Ohio

Chief Justice Talks Changing Judiciary Elections
September 17, 2013 :: WhizNews.com

Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor is traveling across Ohio to promote new proposals and on Tuesday, she stopped by Bryan's Place in downtown...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Ohio judiciary is composed of two appellate courts--the supreme court and the court of appeals, and three trial courts--the court of common pleas, the county court, and the municipal court. The court of common pleas is the court of general jurisdiction. Judges in Ohio are selected in nonpartisan elections, which means that party affiliations are not listed on the ballot. However, political parties have a prominent role in selecting judges since judicial candidates are nominated in partisan primary elections and are endorsed by political parties.

Not only are political parties involved in judicial selection in Ohio, but at an increasing rate so are special interest groups. In 2000, Citizens for a Strong Ohio, a group backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, spent an estimated $4 million on advertisements opposing the reelection of a sitting supreme court justice, and the Chamber itself spent between $1 and $2 million. Citizens for an Independent Court, a group supported by trial lawyers and labor unions, spent approximately $1.5 million in 2000. In 2002, independent groups spent an estimated $5 million on television ads depicting various candidates as pro-workers, pro-business, and pro-family. In 2004, the state legislature adopted broad disclosure requirements for groups that raise and spend money to influence elections.

Oklahoma

OKLAHOMA CITY - The state Senate on Wednesday passed an array of measures involving judges and school safety. One measure, Senate Joint Resolution 21, would...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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Oklahoma is one of only two states that has two courts of last resort--the supreme court has jurisdiction over appeals of all civil matters, and the court of criminal appeals hears all criminal appeals. The court of civil appeals is an intermediate appellate court, and the district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Oklahoma has a bifurcated system of judicial selection. Appellate court judges are chosen through merit selection, and trial court judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections.

Oklahoma judges were originally chosen in partisan elections. The impetus for change came in the mid-1960s, when one Oklahoma supreme court justice was convicted on bribery charges and another was impeached and removed from office. A third justice was already serving time in federal prison for income tax evasion. Described by one journalist as "one of the blackest marks ever on state government," these events led to two constitutional amendments aimed at insulating judicial selection from direct partisan politics. Elections for district court judges were changed from partisan to nonpartisan contests, and merit selection was adopted for appellate court judges and to fill interim vacancies on the district court.

Oregon

The race for Oregon Supreme Court justice is bucking the usual low-key judicial campaign tradition-- with one of the candidates criticizing the other for exaggerating...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Oregon judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a circuit court, a tax court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Oregon judges have been chosen in nonpartisan elections since 1931. The governor appoints judges to fill mid-term vacancies on the courts, and the appointee stands for election at the next general election. In recent years, approximately 85% of Oregon judges have first been appointed rather than elected to office, and the vast majority were unopposed in elections to retain their seats.

In November 2002, Oregon voters rejected two measures relating to the selection of judges. The first measure would have given voters a "none of the above" option when voting for judges and would have required mid-term judicial appointees to run for election at the next available election, rather than at the next general election. The second would have provided for the election of appellate judges from geographic districts rather than statewide. Both measures were placed on the ballot through initiative petitions and were intended to make judges more accountable. The push for these initiatives was motivated by a series of controversial court rulings reversing several voter-approved initiatives and by the release in 2000 of a death row inmate who, according to the court, had been denied the right to a speedy trial. The "none of the above" measure was rejected by a 44-56 margin, while the district-based elections measure failed by a more narrow margin of 49-51.

Pennsylvania

Hometown appeal of judicial candidates
May 31, 2013 :: Philadelphia Inquirer

On May 21, Pennsylvanians continued their tradition of voting for statewide judicial candidates based solely on the county of residence listed for candidates on the...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Pennsylvania judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a superior court, a commonwealth court, a court of common pleas, and various minor courts. The supreme, superior, and commonwealth courts are appellate courts, and the court of common pleas is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Pennsylvania judges are chosen in partisan elections. Pennsylvania is one of only two states that holds its judicial elections in off years in conjunction with municipal elections.

Pennsylvania organizations such as Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts and the Pennsylvania Bar Association have worked for many years to promote merit selection and retention for Pennsylvania's judges. Former governor Tom Ridge was strongly committed to promoting merit selection, convening three summit meetings on the subject in the spring and summer of 2001, but he resigned the governorship in the fall of 2001 to head the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The new Pennsylvania governor, Ed Rendell, pledged during his election campaign to pursue merit selection as governor, describing merit selection as "an idea whose time has come." In 2007, Governor Rendell included providing for merit selection of judges in a six-pronged proposal for restoring the public's trust in Pennsylvania government.

Rhode Island

R.I. Senate approves Governor Chafee's judicial picks
May 30, 2013 :: Providence Journal

The state Senate Thursday approved Governor Chafee's nominations of state court magistrates to the Superior Court and the Family Court bench. The Senate voted 34...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Rhode Island judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a superior court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Rhode Island has the distinction of being the most recent state to adopt merit selection by constitutional amendment. It did so in 1994.

Prior to 1994, supreme court justices were elected by the grand committee (both chambers of the general assembly acting in concert). Lower court judges were appointed by the governor with senate confirmation; according to an informal agreement, the governor, the president of the senate, and the speaker of the house alternated control over selecting appointees.

The move to merit selection was prompted by a series of scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s involving supreme court justices. During this time, two justices resigned under threat of impeachment, and one superior court judge pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes.  Additionally, one  Rhode Island governor also pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes and was sent to prison. A broad-based coalition known as RIght Now! led the reform effort. Key members of the coalition included Common Cause of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Bar Association, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches and the Rhode Island League of Women Voters.

South Carolina

Bill would expand lawmakers' choices for SC judges
January 25, 2013 :: MidlandsConnect.com

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- A House panel has advanced a bill allowing the Legislature to choose South Carolina's judges from among all candidates deemed qualified...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The South Carolina judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the court of appeals, and the circuit court. There are also numerous trial courts of limited jurisdiction, organized into family, probate, equity, magistrate, and municipal courts. South Carolina is one of only two states whose legislature is responsible for selecting judges.

The legislature has elected South Carolina's judges throughout its history. However, this system came under fire in recent years. The primary criticism raised by the system's detractors was that it promoted "inbreeding." In the mid 1990s, all five supreme court justices and more than half of circuit court judges had served in the general assembly before being elected to the bench. In addition, there was no objective body that evaluated the qualifications of judicial candidates, so that general assembly members had little external guidance in casting their votes.

Efforts to reform South Carolina's judicial selection system gained momentum in 1995, when two former legislators were elected despite "not qualified" ratings from the South Carolina Bar. In 1996, South Carolina voters approved a constitutional amendment creating a judicial merit selection commission. The commission considers the qualifications and fitness of candidates for South Carolina courts and submits the names of up to three nominees to the general assembly. The general assembly must elect one of these nominees.

South Dakota

Bill gives lawmakers more say on judicial appointments
February 6, 2013 :: Rapid City Journal

PIERRE | The state Judicial Qualifications Commission would be expanded to nine members by adding two members who would be appointed by the Legislature s...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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South Dakota's unified judicial system consists of the supreme court, the circuit court, and magistrate courts. Supreme court justices are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial qualifications commission, and circuit court judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections.

In 2004, South Dakota voters were asked to decide whether circuit court judges, like supreme court justices, should be selected through a merit process. Voters rejected the measure by a 62-38 margin.

Tennessee

Tennessee s Judicial Nominating Commission, which will cease to exist at the end of this month, is moving to play its role in naming successors...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Tennessee judiciary is composed of three appellate courts--the supreme court, court of appeals, and court of criminal appeals; four trial courts of general jurisdiction--the chancery court, circuit court, probate court, and criminal court; and three courts of limited jurisdiction--the juvenile court, general sessions court, and municipal court. In terms of judicial selection method, Tennessee is considered a "hybrid" state; some judges are chosen through merit selection and others run in partisan elections.

Under the Tennessee Plan adopted by the legislature in 1994, merit selection, with retention elections and performance evaluation, is utilized for all appellate court judges. The Plan was set to expire in June 2009 if not renewed by the legislature, but with only two weeks remaining, the merit selection, retention, and evaluation system was preserved. The new legislation made modifications to the selection and composition of the nominating commission, the number of nominees submitted to the governor, and the ballot language in retention elections. It also calls for contested elections under certain circumstances. The Tennessee Plan has been the subject of several state and federal constitutional challenges, but these challenges have been unsuccessful.

An interesting feature of the Tennessee judiciary is that judicial terms are not staggered, leaving the possibility that a court's composition could change significantly in a single election year.

Texas

Proponents of judicial reform haven't disappeared, but they don't appear particularly confident about success these days. In 2009, Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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Texas is one of only two states with two courts of last resort--the supreme court, which hears only civil matters, and the court of criminal appeals. The court of appeals is the state's intermediate appellate court, and the district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Courts of limited jurisdiction include county, probate, municipal, and justice of the peace courts. When Texas became a state in 1845, judges were appointed by the governor with senate consent, but since 1876, judges at all levels of courts have been elected by the people in partisan elections.

In 1980, Texas became the first state in which the cost of a judicial race exceeded $1 million. Between 1980 and 1986, campaign contributions to candidates in contested appellate court races increased by 250%. The 1988 supreme court elections were the most expensive in Texas history, with twelve candidates for six seats raising $12 million. Between 1992 and 1997, the seven winning candidates for the Texas Supreme Court raised nearly $9.2 million dollars. Of this $9.2 million, more than 40% was contributed by parties or lawyers with cases before the court or by contributors linked to those parties.

To address the perceived impropriety of judges soliciting and accepting large campaign contributions from attorneys and parties who appear before them, the Texas legislature passed the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act in 1995. Under the act, limits on individual contributions to candidates in statewide races range from $5,000 from individual donors to $30,000 from law firms. While some commentators believe the law has been successful in curbing the excesses of the late 1980s and early 1990s, others assert that the contribution limits are too generous to have a meaningful effect. For more information about the Judicial Campaign Fairness Act, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.

Utah

SALT LAKE CITY The Utah Senate Judicial Confirmation Committee is seeking public comment on recently appointed judges in the 1st and 8th judicial districts.

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Utah judiciary consists of a supreme court, a court of appeals, a district court, a juvenile court, and justice courts. Except for justice court judges, Utah's judges are chosen through a merit selection process. The governor fills all judicial vacancies from a list of candidates submitted by a judicial nominating commission. The governor's appointee must then be confirmed by a majority vote of the senate.

Utah is one of only eight states that requires senate confirmation of judicial appointees. In the senate, appointees are first considered by a seven-member confirmation committee. The confirmation committee then votes on whether to recommend appointees to the full senate. In the past, the confirmation committee has simply reviewed the appointee's resume and relied upon personal recommendations; it has rarely interviewed nominees or held public hearings. However, because of a change in senate rules, the committee's investigative process was much more thorough during the consideration of two recent appointees to the supreme court. According to the new rules, every nominee must be interviewed, and the committee has access to all written materials used by the governor in making the appointment. The committee may also solicit public comments that will not be shared with appointees.

Vermont

Shumlin Appoints Judge Geoffrey Crawford To Vermont Supreme Court
September 20, 2013 :: Vermont Public Radio/AP

Governor Peter Shumlin has chosen Superior Court Judge Geoffrey Crawford to fill a vacancy on the Vermont Supreme Court. Crawford is a Harvard Law School...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Vermont judiciary is composed of the supreme court; the trial courts, including the superior court which hears predominantly civil cases, the district court which hears primarily criminal cases, and the family court; and courts of special jurisdiction, including the probate court, the environmental court, and the judicial bureau. Vermont judges are appointed by the governor from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating board. Judges serve six-year terms and must then be retained by a majority vote of the general assembly.

Virginia

Virginia, home of the oldest legislative body in the Western Hemisphere and the mother of presidents, has a flawed process for selecting judges. Virginia is...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Virginia judiciary is composed of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, and the district court. The district court is a court of limited jurisdiction. Virginia is one of only two states whose legislature is responsible for selecting its judges.

For several decades prior to 1995, Democrats controlled the general assembly and the selection of judges. Democrats met in closed-door caucuses to select candidates who were later rubber-stamped by the Democratic majority in the house of delegates and the senate. The general assembly elections of 1995 brought a 20-20 split in the senate and a change in senate rules for selecting judges. The authority to recommend judges shifted to local legislative delegations, establishing a form of senatorial courtesy. Senators representing the judicial district in which the vacancy occurred recommended nominees. If these senators were in agreement, the full senate followed their recommendation. If they didn't agree, other candidates were nominated and debated on the senate floor.

In 1999, for the first time in more than 100 years, Republicans gained a majority in both the house and the senate. The Republican majority established a joint judicial advisory committee to review and evaluate candidates for vacancies on the supreme court and court of appeals and to advise the general assembly on their qualifications. Many Republican legislators also set up local citizen commissions to screen nominees for circuit and district court judgeships.

Washington

Both candidates in state Supreme Court race insist they are fair
October 13, 2012 :: AP/Tacoma News Tribune

Two years ago, Richard Sanders lost his seat on the state Supreme Court in an extremely close election, probably due to comments he made late...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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There are four levels of courts in Washington--the supreme court, the court of appeals, the superior court, and the district and municipal courts. The district and municipal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Washington judges are selected in nonpartisan elections. Washington is one of only three states in which a majority of the members of the high court are women.

Prior to 2006, Washington was one of only four states without limits on campaign contributions to judicial candidates, but in the spring of that year the legislature applied the same contribution limits to judicial candidates that were in place for other candidates. Nonetheless, 2006 was a recordbreaking year for fundraising by supreme court candidates in Washington, leading some reform groups to call for public financing of judicial elections or a move to merit selection.

West Virginia

Rules to convert the state Supreme Court public campaign financing pilot project into a permanent funding option for candidates for the high court were approved...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The West Virginia judiciary consists of a supreme court of appeals, a circuit court, a family court, a magistrates court, and municipal courts. The supreme court of appeals is the state's appellate court, and the circuit court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Except for municipal court judges, whose selection method varies by municipality, judges have been chosen in partisan elections since West Virginia achieved statehood in 1862.

A 2004 supreme court of appeals race in West Virginia garnered national attention because of the number of attack ads aired by both candidates and special interest groups and the negativity of the ads. More than four of every five ads aired by the campaigns were attack ads, and of all the attack ads aired in 2004 in supreme court races, nearly 43% aired in West Virginia alone.

In 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court reviewed a West Virginia high court ruling that stemmed from the 2004 race. Brent Benjamin, the candidate who successfully challenged an incumbent justice in that contest, had received $1000 in campaign contributions from Don Blankenship, the president and CEO of Massey Energy. Blankenship also spent $3 million in support of the challenger's election. At the same time, Massey Energy was involved in litigation in which it had been ordered to pay $50 million in damages, a figure which grew to $82 million with post-trial interest. In 2006, Massey Energy's appeal of this verdict reached the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals. Justice Benjamin twice rejected motions by the opposing party, Hugh Caperton, that he recuse himself because of Blankenship's campaign support, and Benjamin joined a 3-2 majority overturning the ruling against Massey Energy. Caperton appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, alleging that Benjamin's failure to recuse himself violated constitutional guarantees of due process. In Caperton v. Massey (2009), a 5-4 Court agreed. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy described this as "an exceptional case" in which one of the parties "had a significant and disproportionate influence in placing the judge on the case." Because of the "serious, objective risk of actual bias," due process required Benjamin's recusal from the case. The decision has prompted recusal reform proposals in many states that elect judges, as well as calls for broader selection reform.

Wisconsin

Big Donors, Little Scrutiny
September 25, 2013 :: Express Milwaukee

Last week, the nonpartisan watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign announced that it had identified 14 donors who had made campaign contributions over the legal $10,000...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Wisconsin judiciary consists of the supreme court, the court of appeals, the circuit court, and municipal courts. Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections in the spring of each year. Only one supreme court justice and one court of appeals judge in each district may be elected in a given year.

Wisconsin has seen increasing levels of contributions to and spending by judicial candidates in recent years. Spending in a supreme court race topped the million-dollar mark for the first time in 1999. The 2009 supreme court race between incumbent chief justice Shirley Abrahamson and challenger Randy Koschnick was the first in the last three where candidate spending was higher than spending by special interest groups. A total of $2.1 million was spent by the candidates and outside groups. The $1.37 million spent by Abrahamson was the second-highest ever by a supreme court candidate. For more information, see the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's Hijacking Campaign 2009.

In November 2009, the Impartial Justice bill was signed into law, creating a public financing system for judicial elections. The program provides up to $400,000 of initial public financing for supreme court candidates. The law also reduces contribution limits for candidates who opt out of public financing from $10,000 to $1,000. The groups that worked to achieve this reform include Wisconsin Citizen Action, Common Cause in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Wyoming

The Wyoming judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a district court, a circuit court, and a municipal court. The supreme court is the state's appellate court, and the district court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Judges of the supreme, district, and circuit courts are chosen through a merit selection process, where the governor appoints a judge from a list of three names submitted by the judicial nominating commission. After at least one year in office, the judge stands for retention. If retained, supreme court justices serve eight-year terms, district court judges serve six-year terms, and circuit court judges serve four-year terms. Since Wyoming adopted merit selection of judges in 1972, five judges have been rejected by voters, including a supreme court justice whose 1992 bid for retention failed.