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State of Maryland

Judicial Selection in the States: Maryland

Overview

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.