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State of Rhode Island

History of Reform Efforts: Rhode Island

Formal Changes Since Inception

Supreme court justices elected by the general assembly in grand committee; justices remained in office until a majority of each house passed a resolution declaring their office vacant.

District court judges elected to three-year terms by the general assembly in grand committee.

Superior court judges elected for life by the general assembly in grand committee.

District court judges appointed to six-year terms by the governor with senate consent.

Superior court, district court, and family court judges appointed for life by the governor with senate consent.

In June 1994, the legislature approved a merit selection system for lower court judges. A constitutional amendment providing for merit selection of supreme court justices was approved by the electorate by well over a two-to-one margin in November 1994. Leading the effort to adopt merit selection was RIght Now!, a coalition of organizations with a history of promoting reform within the state. Key members of the coalition were Common Cause of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Bar Association, and the Rhode Island League of Women Voters. Other coalition members included the Chamber of Commerce, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, several environmental groups, the Catholic Diocese of Rhode Island, and prominent business leaders.

General assembly passed legislation allowing the governor to choose judicial appointees from lists of finalists dating back five years.