Contact: Sandy Adkins
Communications Specialist
National Center for State Courts
757.259.1515
 

Unusual U.S. Supreme Court turnover rate mirrored in state courts

Williamsburg, Va. (Aug. 5, 2010) — Assuming Solicitor General Elena Kagan is confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be the junior associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the court will look substantially different — 44 percent different, by the numbers — than it did just five years ago. Kagan's confirmation will bring the fourth new justice to the nine-member court since 2005. She will join Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Justice Sonia Sotomayor as a member new to the court in the past five years. That level of turnover in such a short period of time is unusual for the nation's highest court, but 17 out of the 53* state high courts have seen a similar or greater level of turnover in the same stretch of time.  

Eleven of those courts have seen 43 percent or 44 percent turnover in composition — three new members on seven-member courts or four new members on nine-member courts. One state, Florida, has welcomed four new members to its seven-member court for a 57 percent turnover rate since 2005.  Interestingly, four states with the smallest high courts — the five-member courts in Alaska, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia — have each welcomed three new members for a 60 percent turnover rate.

 On the other end of the scale, eight state courts look exactly the same as they did in 2005: The supreme courts in California, Delaware, Indiana, North Dakota, Utah, and Vermont, and the criminal courts of appeal in Oklahoma and Texas have the same group photographs being snapped today as five years ago.

Comparisons on terms of service between state and federal courts are difficult to make due to variations in judicial-selection systems in the states and the lack of lifetime appointments accorded judges in the states. Only Rhode Island provides for federal-style lifetime appointments for its state judges.

State

No. of Judges Who Took Office After 2005

Percentage of Judges
Who Took Office
After 2005

Alabama

3

33%

Alaska

3

60%

Arizona

1

20%

Arkansas

3

43%

California

0

0%

Colorado

1

14%

Connecticut

3

43%

Delaware

0

0%

District of Columbia

3

33%

Florida

4

57%

Georgia

1

14%

Hawaii

1

20%

Idaho

2

40%

Illinois

1

14%

Indiana

0

0%

Iowa

3

43%

Kansas

3

43%

Kentucky

6

86%

Louisiana

2

29%

Maine

3

43%

Maryland

3

43%

Massachusetts

2

29%

Michigan

1

14%

Minnesota

3

43%

Mississippi

4

44%

Missouri

2

29%

Montana

2

29%

Nebraska

1

14%

Nevada

3

43%

New Hampshire

2

40%

New Jersey

3

43%

New Mexico

1

20%

New York

2

29%

North Carolina

2

29%

North Dakota

0

0%

Ohio

2

29%

Oklahoma
Court of Criminal Appeals

0

0%

Oklahoma
Supreme Court

1

11%

Oregon

2

29%

Pennsylvania

2

29%

Rhode Island

1

20%

South Carolina

3

60%

South Dakota

1

20%

Tennessee

3

60%

Texas
Court of Criminal Appeals

0

0%

Texas
Supreme Court

2

22%

Utah

0

0%

Vermont

0

0%

Virginia

3

43%

Washington

1

11%

West Virginia

3

60%

Wisconsin

2

29%

Wyoming

1

20%

Average Turnover Rate

 

29%

 

A future NCSC Backgrounder will focus on the remarkable changes taking place at the top levels of state high courts. A series of long-serving and high-profile state chief justices, including those from California, Colorado, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, have announced their resignations in 2010, potentially marking the start of a "new generation" of leadership in state high courts.

*The 53 state courts of last resort include the supreme courts of all 50 states, the criminal courts of last resort in Oklahoma and Texas, which are separate from those states' supreme courts, and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.

 

The NCSC Backgrounder is designed to provide the media with statistics and facts related to current issues of interest.

The National Center for State Courts, headquartered in Williamsburg, Va., is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the administration of justice by providing leadership and service to the state courts. Founded in 1971 by the Conference of Chief Justices and Chief Justice of the United States Warren E. Burger, NCSC provides education, training, technology, management, and research services to the nation's state courts.