Select a State:

History of Reform Efforts

Altering Selection Methods

Alabama

Methods of selection and term lengths for judges are prescribed in Alabama's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments must have the approval of three fifths of the members of each house of the legislature and then be approved by a majority of voters at an election designated by the legislature.

Alaska

Selection method and term lengths for supreme court and superior court judges are prescribed in Alaska's constitution. Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote of each house of the legislature, followed by approval of a simple majority of voters. Selection method and term lengths for court of appeals judges are prescribed by statute.

Arizona

Method of selection and term lengths for Arizona judges are prescribed in the constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments to the constitution may be proposed by the legislature or by initiative petition. If a proposed amendment is passed by a majority of both houses of the legislature, or the initiative petition is signed by a number of voters equal to at least 15% of votes cast for governor in the last election, the proposed amendment is submitted to the voters at the next general election. The proposed amendment must be approved by a majority of voters.

Arkansas

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the supreme court, court of appeals, circuit court, and district court are prescribed in the Arkansas constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed by a majority of the members of each house of the general assembly or by initiative petition signed by 10% of voters. Proposed amendments must then be approved by a majority of voters at the next general election.

Section 18 of the new judicial article provides that the general assembly may refer the issue of merit selection of judges of the supreme court and the court of appeals to the voters at any general election. If the voters approve a merit selection system, the general assembly is authorized to enact laws creating a judicial nominating commission.

California

Selection method and term lengths for California judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed with the concurrence of two thirds of the members of both houses of the legislature. Amendments may also be proposed by an initiative petition signed by voters equal in number to at least 8% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters.

Colorado

The selection method for Colorado judges is prescribed in the constitution, as are term lengths for judges of the supreme court and district courts. The term length for court of appeals judges is established by statute. Moving away from merit selection or changing the term lengths of supreme court and district court judges would require a constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the general assembly and must be approved by two thirds of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by an initiative petition signed by voters in an amount equal to at least 5% of votes cast for the office of secretary of state in the last general election. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters.

Connecticut

Selection method and term lengths for Connecticut judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by any member of the general assembly. Proposed amendments receiving the support of at least three fourths of the members of the general assembly are submitted to the voters at the next general election. Other proposed amendments must receive majority support at consecutive general assembly sessions before being submitted to the voters.

Delaware

According to the Delaware Constitution, judges are appointed by the governor with senate consent to twelve-year terms. Since 1977, Delaware governors have established a judicial nominating commission by executive order. Changing from an appointive to an elective system, or establishing a permanent merit selection process, would require a constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments must be approved by a two-thirds vote of each house in two successive legislative sessions.

District of Columbia

Selection method and term lengths for D.C. judges are outlined in the D.C. Code and the D.C. Home Rule Charter. Changes in the judicial selection process must first be enacted by the D.C. Council and then submitted to Congress for review. Such measures become law unless Congress adopts a joint resolution of disapproval signed by the president.

Federal

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Florida

Selection methods and term lengths for Florida judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed by the legislature or by initiative. Legislative proposals require agreement of three fifths of the members of each house and approval by a majority of voters. Proposals by initiative petition require signatures from a number of electors in each of one half of the state's congressional districts, and of the state as a whole, equal to 8% of the votes cast in each district, and in the state as a whole, in the most recent presidential election. Amendments propsed by initiative must be approved by two thirds of voters.

Georgia

Selection method and term lengths for Georgia judges are prescribed in the constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in the senate or the house of representatives and must be approved by two thirds of the members of each house. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Hawaii

Selection method and term lengths for Hawaii judges are prescribed in the Hawaii Constitution. Amendments to the constitution may be proposed by constitutional convention or by the legislature. Amendments proposed by the legislature must be approved by two thirds of each house in one session or by a majority of each house in two successive sessions. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters, with the majority constituting at least 50% of the votes cast in the election or, in the case of a special election, at least 30% of the total number of registered voters.

Idaho

Method of selection and term lengths for justices of the supreme court and judges of the district courts are prescribed in the Idaho Constitution. Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the court of appeals are prescribed by statute.

The constitution also gives the governor the authority to fill vacancies on the supreme court, and the governor has statutory authorization to fill vacancies on the court of appeals and district courts. The legislature prescribes the process for filling vacancies.

An amendment to the Idaho Constitution must be passed by two thirds of the members of both houses of the state legislature and by a majority of the voters.

Illinois

Selection method and term lengths for Illinois judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Constitutional amendments may be initiated in either house of the general assembly and must be approved by a three-fifths vote of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by initiative petition signed by voters equal in number to at least 8% of total votes cast for governor in the last election. The proposed amendment is submitted to the voters at the next general election more than six months after legislative passage and must be ratified by either three fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election.

Indiana

Selection methods and term lengths for judges of the supreme court, court of appeals, and circuit court are prescribed in Indiana's constitution, except that circuit court elections may be made nonpartisan by statute. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by a majority of the members of each house in two consecutive legislative sessions. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Iowa

The Iowa Constitution governs the selection process for supreme court, court of appeals, and district court judges and the length of judicial terms. Therefore, any changes in selection method or term length must occur through constitutional amendment. A majority of the members of each house of the general assembly must approve the proposed amendment in two successive legislative sessions, followed by approval of a majority of voters at the next general election.

Kansas

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the supreme court and district court are outlined in the Kansas Constitution. Any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amending the constitution requires a two-thirds vote in the house and senate, followed by approval of a simple majority of voters. Method of selection and term lengths for court of appeals judges are prescribed by statute and thus may be altered by ordinary legislation.

District court judges are elected in any judicial district that has not adopted merit selection. Under the state's constitution, a change to merit selection must be approved by the voters of the district. To adopt merit selection, a petition signed by 5% of the electors of that district must be submitted to the secretary of state. A merit selection proposition is then placed on the ballot in the next general election. The proposition must be passed a majority of voters in that district.

Kentucky

Method of selection and term lengths for Kentucky judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must be made through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the general assembly and must be approved by three fifths of the members of each house. The proposed amendment must then be ratified by a majority of voters at the next general election for members of the house of representatives.

Louisiana

Selection method and term lengths for Louisiana judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by joint resolution with the approval of two thirds of the members of the house of representatives and the senate. Proposed amendments must be approved by a majority of voters.

Maine

Selection method and term lengths for Maine judges are prescribed in the constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments must be approved by a two-thirds vote of both houses of the legislature before being submitted to the voters. Approval of a majority of voters is required.

Maryland

Maryland's constitution prescribes judicial term lengths and an appointive process for selecting judges. An executive order from the Governor creates the judicial nominating commissions that recommend candidates for appointment. Altering judicial term lengths or establishing a permanent merit selection process would require amending the constitution. Proposed amendments must be approved by a three-fifths vote of both houses of the legislature and ratified by a majority of voters. 

Massachusetts

The Massachusetts constitution calls for all judges to be appointed for life by the governor with executive council approval. Merit selection is established by executive order; executive orders are the purview of each governor. Doing away with life tenure for judges or moving to an elective system would require a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed with the approval of a majority of both houses of the general court at consecutive sessions, or by initiative petition signed by voters equal in number to at least 3% of votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters.

Michigan

Selection methods and term lengths for Michigan judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, except that the nomination process for supreme court justices is established by statute. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in the senate or house of representatives and must be approved by two thirds of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by initiative petition signed by registered electors equal in number to at least 10% of the total votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Minnesota

Selection method and term lengths for Minnesota judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments must be approved by a majority of the members of each house of the legislature and ratified by a majority of voters.

Mississippi

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the supreme court, chancery court, and circuit court are prescribed in the Mississippi Constitution. However, because the constitution only specifies that judges are to be elected, the move from partisan to nonpartisan elections in 1994 did not require a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment would be necessary to move to an appointive system or to lengthen judicial terms. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by the legislature or by initiative. Amendments may be proposed with the approval of two thirds of both houses of the legislature or by a petition signed by voters numbering at least 12% of the votes for governor in the last election. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters. Method of selection and term lengths for court of appeals judges are established by statute.

Missouri

Selection method and term lengths for Missouri judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by a majority of the members of each house of the general assembly or by initiative petition signed by 8% of the voters in each of two thirds of the state's congressional districts. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters at the next general election or at a special election. The constitution also provides an initiative process through which the counties in each judicial circuit can adopt merit selection or return to partisan elections for circuit court judges.

Montana

Selection method and term lengths for Montana judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, except that judicial elections are nonpartisan according to statute. Moving to an appointive system or altering term lengths would require a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by two thirds of the members of the legislature or by initiative petition signed by at least 10% of the qualified electors of the state. Proposed amendments must then be approved by a majority of voters.

Nebraska

Selection method and term lengths for Nebraska judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed by a three- fifths vote of the legislature or by initiative petition signed by 10% of registered voters. The proposed amendment is then submitted to the voters at the next legislative election or at a special election called by a four-fifths vote of the legislature. If a majority of voters approve the proposed amendment, it becomes part of the constitution.

Nevada

Selection method and term lengths for Nevada judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, except that judicial elections are nonpartisan according to statute. Moving to an appointive system or altering term lengths would require a constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature. Amendments proposed by the legislature must be approved by a majority of the members of both houses in two consecutive regular sessions. The amendment must then be ratified by a majority of voters. Amendments may also be proposed by initiative petition. Such petitions must be signed by a number of registered voters equal to at least 10% of the number of registered voters in the last general election. Amendments proposed by initiative petition must be ratified by a majority of voters in two consecutive general elections.

New Hampshire

Selection method and term lengths for New Hampshire are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by the general court (New Hampshire's legislature) or by constitutional convention. Amendments proposed by the general court must approved by three fifths of both the house of representatives and the senate; amendments proposed by constitutional convention must be approved by three fifths of convention members. Proposals are put on the ballot at the next election and must be approved by two thirds of the voters.

There have been efforts over the years to establish through legislation a judicial nominating commission to recommend candidates for judicial appointment. In 1975, Governor Thomson vetoed a bill that would have established a judicial selection commission. The vetoed legislation was reintroduced in 1977. At the request of the legislature, the New Hampshire Supreme Court issued an advisory opinion regarding the constitutionality of establishing a judicial selection commission through legislation. The court ruled that such legislation would be "an unconstitutional encroachment upon the powers of the Governor and the Council," over the vigorous dissent of two justices. Opinion of the Justices, 117 N.H. 398 (1977).

New Jersey

Method of selection and term lengths for New Jersey judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, and any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. To become effective, proposed changes must be agreed to either by a three-fifths majority of both houses in one legislative session or by a simple majority of both houses in two consecutive legislative sessions. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters at the next general election.

New Mexico

Selection method and term lengths for New Mexico's judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by a majority of the members of each house. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters at the next regular election or at a special election.

New York

Selection method and term lengths for New York judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments must be approved by a majority of the members of each house of the legislature in consecutive sessions and then approved by a majority of voters.

The constitution was amended in 1977 to provide for merit selection of court of appeals judges; merit selection for other judicial offices has been established by executive order. Since the mid-1970s, governors and New York City mayors have used judicial nominating commissions to assist them in making appointments, either for full terms or to fill interim vacancies. Executive orders are the purview of each chief executive.

North Carolina

Selection method and term lengths for North Carolina judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, except that nonpartisan elections are established by statute. Proposed constitutional amendments must be approved by three fifths of the members of each house of the general assembly and ratified by a majority of voters.

North Dakota

Selection method and term lengths for North Dakota judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, except that elections are nonpartisan according to statute. Moving to an appointive system or altering term lengths would require a constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved a majority of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by an initiative petition signed by electors equal in number to at least 4% of the population, according to the last decennial census. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Ohio

According to Ohio's constitution, judges are to be elected to terms of not less than six years. This provision allows the general assembly to lengthen judicial terms. The general assembly also determines whether judicial elections are partisan or nonpartisan. Moving to an appointive system for judges would require amending the constitution. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by a three-fifths vote of both houses of the general assembly, or by an initiative petition signed by 10% of the state's electors. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters at a special or general election.

Oklahoma

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the supreme court, court of criminal appeals, and district court are prescribed in Oklahoma's constitution. Any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed with majority approval in both the house of representatives and the senate, or by initiative petition signed by 15% of voters. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters.

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the court of civil appeals are prescribed by statute.

Oregon

Selection method and term lengths for Oregon judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, although the legislature may determine whether elections are partisan or nonpartisan. Moving away from judicial elections or altering term lengths must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by a majority of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by an initiative petition signed by a number of qualified voters equal to 8% of the total number of votes cast in the most recent gubernatorial election. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Pennsylvania

Selection method and term lengths for Pennsylvania judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must be made through constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment must receive majority support in each house in two consecutive sessions of the general assembly and then be approved by a majority of voters.

Rhode Island

The method of selecting judges is outlined in Rhode Island's. Life tenure for supreme court justices is also prescribed in the constitution. Any changes must occur through constitutional amendment, proposed with the approval of a majority of the members of the house of representatives and the senate. Proposed amendments are placed on the ballot at the next general election and become part of the constitution if ratified by a majority of voters. Life tenure for judges other than supreme court justices is established by statute.

South Carolina

Selection method and term lengths for South Carolina judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must come about through constitutional amendment. Either branch of the general assembly may propose a constitutional amendment. If the proposed amendment receives two-thirds approval of both the house and senate, the amendment is submitted to the voters at the next general election. If a majority of voters ratify the proposed amendment, followed by a majority of both houses of the general assembly, the amendment becomes part of the constitution.

South Dakota

Selection method and term lengths for South Dakota judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must be made through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed by a majority vote of the members of each house of the legislature or by initiative. Initiative petitions must be signed by qualified voters equal in number to at least 10% of the votes cast for governor in the last election. Proposed amendments must be ratified by a majority of voters.

Tennessee

Tennessee's constitution sets judicial term lengths at eight years and provides that judges of the supreme court and inferior courts are to be elected by the people. However, the Tennessee Plan, which is statutorily based, establishes a merit selection process for appellate court judges. The Tennessee Plan has been the subject of several state and federal constitutional challenges, but these challenges have been unsuccessful.

Proposed constitutional amendments must be passed by a majority of the members of each house of the general assembly in one session and then by two thirds of the members in the next session. They must then be approved by a majority of those voting for governor at the next general election.

Texas

Method of selection and term lengths for judges of the supreme court, court of criminal appeals, court of appeals, and district courts are prescribed in Texas' constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Proposed amendments must be approved by two thirds of the members of each house of the legislature and then approved by a majority of voters at the next general election.

Utah

Selection method and term lengths for Utah judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by two thirds of the members of each house. Amendments may also be proposed by initiative petition signed by a number of registered voters equal to 10% of all votes cast for governor in the most recent gubernatorial election. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Vermont

Selection method and term lengths for Vermont judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must occur through constitutional amendment. Only the senate, by a two-thirds vote, may propose amendments to the constitution. The proposal must then be approved by a majority of the house of representatives during the same session. At the next legislative session, a majority of both the senate and the house must approve the proposed amendment in order for it to be submitted to the voters. Approval of a majority of voters is required.

Virginia

The Virginia Constitution prescribes the selection method and term lengths for Virginia judges. Thus, any changes must come about through constitutional amendment. Either branch of the general assembly may propose constitutional amendments. If the proposed amendment receives majority approval in both the house of delegates and the senate in two consecutive legislative sessions, the amendment is submitted to all qualified voters at the next general election. Majority approval by voters is required for ratification.

Washington

Washington's constitution calls for the election of judges; nonpartisan judicial elections are prescribed by statute. Term lengths for supreme court and superior court judges are set in the constitution; term lengths for court of appeals judges are statutory. Constitutional amendments may be proposed by either branch of the legislature and must be approved by two thirds of both houses. Proposed amendments are submitted to the voters at the next general election and must be ratified by a majority of voters.

West Virginia

Selection method and term lengths for West Virginia judges are prescribed in the state's constitution, although the legislature may determine whether elections are partisan or nonpartisan. Moving away from judicial elections or altering term lengths must occur through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by two thirds of the legislature's members. The proposed amendment must be ratified by a majority of voters at a special election or the next general election.

Wisconsin

Selection method and term lengths for Wisconsin judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Constitutional amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by a majority of the members of each house in two successive legislative sessions. Proposed amendments must then be ratified by a majority of voters.

Wyoming

Selection method and term lengths for Wyoming judges are prescribed in the state's constitution. Thus, any changes must be made through constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed in either house of the legislature and must be approved by two thirds of both houses. The proposed amendment must then be ratified by a majority of voters in the next general election.