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State of California

Methods of Judicial Selection: California

Selection of Judges

Number of Judgeships
Supreme Court: 7
Court of Appeals: 102
Superior Court: 1535
Number of Districts/Circuits
Supreme Court: --
Court of Appeals: 6
Superior Court: 58*
Geographic Basis for Selection
Supreme Court: statewide
Court of Appeals: district
Superior Court: county
Method of Selection (full term)
Supreme Court: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Court of Appeals: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Superior Court: nonpartisan election****+
Length of Term
Supreme Court: 12 yrs
Court of Appeals: 12 yrs
Superior Court: 6 yrs
Method of Retention
Supreme Court: retention election
Court of Appeals: retention election
Superior Court: reelection
Length of Subsequent Terms
Supreme Court: 12 yrs
Court of Appeals: 12yrs
Superior Court: 6 yrs
Method of Filling Interim Vacancies
Supreme Court: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Court of Appeals: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Superior Court: gubernatorial appointment**
When Interim Judges Stand for Election/Appointment
Supreme Court: next gubernatorial election
Court of Appeals: next gubernatorial election
Superior Court: next general election
Selection of Chief Judge/Justice
Supreme Court: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Court of Appeals: gubernatorial appointment;**confirmation by commission on judicial appointments***
Superior Court: peer vote
Term of Office for Chief Judge/Justice
Supreme Court: 12 yrs
Court of Appeals: 12 yrs
Superior Court: 1 or 2 yrs, depending on county
Qualifications
Supreme Court: 10 yrs practice of law in state or service as judge of court of record
Court of Appeals: 10 yrs practice of law in state or service as judge of court of record
Superior Court: 10 yrs practice of law in state or service as judge of court of record

Selection and retention methods and term lengths are prescribed by Article VI of the California Constitution. 

*In 1998, voters approved Proposition 220, a constitutional amendment that allowed the judges in each county to merge their superior and municipal courts into a single superior court. By early 2001, all of the state's 58 counties had voted to unify their courts.

**Since 1979, the legislature has required that the State Bar of California's commission on judicial nominees evaluation (informally known as the Jenny Commission) review the qualifications and fitness of prospective judicial appointees through an extensive investigation. The commission, which consists of both public members and attorneys, rates candidates as exceptionally well qualified, well qualified, qualified, or not qualified. The governor is not bound by the commission's recommendations.

***The commission on judicial appointments consists of three members: the chief justice, the attorney general, and the senior presiding justice of the court of appeal of the affected appellate district. When a supreme court appointee is being considered, the third member of the commission is the senior presiding justice of the state's courts of appeal. The commission holds one or more public hearings to review the appointee's qualifications and may confirm or veto the appointment by majority vote.

****If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the primary election, there is a general-election runoff between the top two candidates. If an incumbent judge is unopposed, s/he is automatically reelected; the judge's name does not appear on the ballot. The constitution provides that electors in each county may, by majority vote, opt for the selection of superior court judges by the method used for appellate court judges. To date, no counties have adopted an appointive process.

 +Incumbency designations on the ballot are determined by each county.