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Caseload Highlights: Judicial Selection 101: What Varies and What Matters

NCJ Number
David Rottman; Chantal Bromage; Michael Zose; Bryan Thompson
Date Published
October 2006
8 pages
This report provides data and information on 2006 judicial elections throughout the Nation, describes various types of judicial selection methods, and discusses trends in judicial selection procedures.
As of July 31, 2006, judicial elections will be held to fill 86 seats on the courts of last resort in 30 States. Three types of elections will be used: "retention elections," in which citizens vote on whether specific judges should be retained in office; "partisan elections," which are contested under political party banners; and nonpartisan elections, which have no formal involvement of political parties. Twelve States exclusively use appointments to fill their courts of last resort. In discussing the classification of States by judicial selection method, the authors advise that no classification of States by selection method can be regarded as correct or optimal. The common practice of referring to four main methods for selecting judges--appointment, partisan election, nonpartisan election, and retention election--simplifies but does not always clarify the distinctions between selection methods. The authors describe the basic elements that define a State's method for selecting judges. A chart shows each State's judicial selection method for a judge's initial term and subsequent term for both appellate courts and general jurisdiction trial courts. Initial term selections for both types of courts are indicated to be either partisan or nonpartisan elections or appointment. Subsequent terms are indicated to be partisan or nonpartisan elections, appointment, or retention election. Another chart shows each State's selection type and judicial term for courts of last resort, using the aforementioned selection methods. A third chart shows changes in judicial selection methods for all States from 1980 through 2000.