October 26, 2022
by Bill Raftery
Voters will be heading to the polls in less than two weeks to vote on a variety of federal, state, and local offices. In many states that process will include voting for judges, but this is not universally true as is often the case with state legislative and executive offices. Moreover, even in states where some judges are elected, how they are elected can vary from county to county and town to town. With more than 25 different selection systems, the question of which states elect judges does not have an easy answer. The National Center for State Courts has developed a data visualization located at www.ncsc.org/judicialselection that puts this complexity into perspective.
- Members of the Kansas Supreme Court are appointed by the governor from a list provided by a judicial nominating commission and are subject to retention elections.
- A different system is used for the Kansas Court of Appeals, where the governor picks judges (without a nominating commission list) with Senate confirmation followed up by retention elections.
- At the District Court level, the state is split:
- Judges in the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 21st, 25th, 28th, 30th, and 31st Judicial Districts are appointed by the governor from a list provided by a judicial nominating commission and are subject to retention elections.
- In all other judicial districts, judges are subject to partisan elections both for their initial term and additional terms.
- Kansas Municipal Court judges are appointed by the municipality's governing body and then reappointed.
Overall, over 25 distinct judicial selection systems are in use in the United States for selecting judges. This does not even include:
- Interim appointments which have their own set of criteria and methods
- Specific judicial leadership positions, particularly how chief justices are selected.
- Subcategories, for example, while Illinois and Pennsylvania’s supreme courts appear to use the same system (partisan elections for initial terms, retention elections for additional), Illinois judges must be retained with at least a 60% yes of the vote whereas Pennsylvania’s justices need only a simple majority.
Is your state considering changes to how judges are selected? Follow the National Center for State Courts on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, and share your experiences. For more information on this or other topics impacting state courts, contact Knowledge@ncsc.org or call 800-616-6164.