Judicial selection in Arizona

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Arizona
Seal of Arizona.png
Arizona Supreme Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   6 years
Arizona Court of Appeals
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt.
Term:   6 years
Arizona Superior Court
Method:   Comm. select., Gov. appt. or non-partisan elections
Term:   4 years
Arizona Justice Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   4 years

Arizona judges are selected using a variety of different methods.

Appellate Courts

Justices of the Arizona Supreme Court and Arizona Court of Appeals are chosen via a commission selected, political appointment method. This is commonly referred to as Merit selection or the Missouri Plan.

When a vacancy on the court is announced, potential justices submit applications to the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Once this group has chosen a slate of nominees for a vacancy that has occurred, the governor picks one from that list.

The newly appointed justice initially stands for retention in the next general election more than two years after taking office. If she or he is retained by voters, the justice then serves a full six year term.[1][2]


1910 Constitution

The high court was established in Article 6 of the Arizona Constitution. It was ratified in December 1910, 14 months before Arizona achieved statehood.

1960 Modern Courts Amendment

Alterations made to the Supreme Court in this 1960 constitutional amendment created the modern court.


  • Gave the Supreme Court administrative supervision over the state judiciary;
  • Allowed the body to make procedural rules of court;
  • Increased the number of justices from three to five;
  • Allowed for creation of the Arizona Court of Appeals;
  • Set the mandatory retirement age at 70; and
  • Restricted judicial officers from holding other offices concurrently.[3]

1974 Proposition 108

Almost fifteen years since it was first proposed, voters approved Proposition 108, which changed judicial selection in the state. Formerly utilizing a method of popular elections, this ballot measure established the Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection still in use. This changed the way judges were selected for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Superior Courts in counties with a population exceeding 150,000.[4]

Superior Courts


Judges of the Arizona Superior Court are selected in one of two ways.

  • In the state's other 13 counties, judges are selected in the Non-partisan election of judges. Interim vacancies are filled through gubernatorial appointment and the new judge must run in the next general election.[1]

Judges selected through either method serve a four year term.[1]


The Superior Court was established by the Arizona Legislature following statehood in 1912. All the judges of this level of the courts were elected via popular election until the passage of Proposition 108 in 1974. At that time, counties with populations exceeding 150,000 would select judges through the same process as the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. In 1992, the population limit was increased to 250,000. These numbers have only ever included Pima and Maricopa counties.[3]

Justice Courts

Justices of the Peace are elected to four year terms in partisan elections.

The Arizona Justice Courts were established by the legislature in 1912, along with the Superior Courts and Juvenile Courts.[5]

Qualifications for judgeships

  • Supreme Court:
Resident of Arizona
Licensed to practice law for 10 years
  • Court of Appeals and Superior Court:
At least 30 years old
Resident of Arizona
Licensed to practice law for five years
Local resident for one year

All justices and judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70 in Arizona.

Reform efforts


On April 5, 2013 Governor Jan Brewer signed legislation that would have the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments make five candidate nominations for each vacancy on the Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. Before this legislation, the Commission was only required to forward three nominees to the governor for appointment. The law will go into effect later in 2013 if it is not ruled unconstitutional.[6]


In the first quarter of 2011, fifteen bills having to do with judicial selection were introduced in the Arizona Legislature. All of the proposals intended to change or end merit selection in the state. [7]

Of those House and Senate Bills, only one has emerged to make it onto the ballot in 2012: the Arizona Judicial Selection Amendment (2012). If approved by voters, this constitutional amendment will:

  • increase Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and Pima and Maricopa Superior Court judges' terms from six to eight years (for terms beginning after January 1, 2013).
  • increase the retirement age from 70 to 75.
  • alter the composition of the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. Currently the Bar Association nominates five attorneys to serve and the governor appoints them. The new method would allow the governor to appoint four members, while the Bar Association appoints one attorney.
  • determine that the nominating commission submit at least eight nominees for a vacancy, unless two vacancies occur on the same court simultaneously, in which case the commission must nominate at least six nominees for each.
  • eliminates the differences in term lengths and non-attorney members of the commission.[8]

Arizona voters will decide whether to pass this constitutional amendment in the November 6, 2012 general election.


During period, nineteen bills were submitted to eliminate merit selection in Arizona. According to the authors of "On the Validity and Vitality of Arizona's Judicial Merit Selection System: Past, Present and Future", one impetus for these bills was the Arizona Supreme Court ruling in Bennett v. Napolitano. In this case, the high court ruled that state legislators lacked standing to challenge the governor's line item vetoes to the budget.[9]

The authors are concluding that

See also

External links


ArizonaArizona Supreme CourtArizona Court of AppealsArizona Superior CourtArizona Justice CourtsArizona Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of ArizonaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Ninth CircuitArizona countiesArizona judicial newsArizona judicial electionsJudicial selection in ArizonaArizonaTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg