Judicial selection in Arizona
|Judicial selection in Arizona|
|Arizona Supreme Court|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
|Arizona Court of Appeals|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt.|
|Arizona Superior Court|
|Method:||Comm. select., Gov. appt. or non-partisan elections|
|Arizona Justice Courts|
|Method:||Partisan election of judges|
Selection of the state court judges in Arizona occurs through a variety of methods, varying by level of court and (in the case of the superior courts) by county population. The two appellate courts rely on what is known as the Missouri Plan, while the superior courts employ a mix of partisan elections, non-partisan elections and merit selection.
Elected judges' terms take effect on the first Monday in January following their election.
There are five justices on the Arizona Supreme Court, each appointed by the governor from a list of names compiled by the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. The initial term of a new justice is at least two years, after which the justice stands for retention in an uncontested yes-no election. Subsequent terms last six years. For more information on these retention elections, visit the Arizona judicial elections page.
To serve on this court, a justice must be:
- a state resident;
- licensed to practice law in the state for 10 years; and
- under the age of 70 (retirement by 70 is mandatory).
If a midterm vacancy occurs on the court, the seat is filled as it normally would be if the vacancy occurred at the end of a justice's term. Potential justices submit applications to the Arizona Commission on Appellate Court Appointments, and once the commission has chosen a slate of nominees, the governor picks one from that list. After occupying the seat for two years, the newly appointed justice stands for retention in the next general election. The justice then serves a full six-year term if he or she is retained by voters.
Court of Appeals
There are 23 judges on the Arizona Court of Appeals, each appointed in an identical fashion to those of the Arizona Supreme Court (although with different job qualifications, as seen below). Like supreme court justices, court of appeals judges serve initial terms of at least two years and subsequent terms of six years.
The chief judge of the court of appeals, like that of the supreme court, is selected by peer vote. However, he or she only serves in that capacity for one year.
To serve on this court, a justice must be:
- a state resident;
- licensed to practice law in the state for 5 years; and
- at least 30 years old and under the age of 70 (retirement by 70 is mandatory).
The 174 judges of the Arizona Superior Court are selected in one of two ways.
- In counties with a population exceeding 250,000, judges are selected through the merit selection method. (Only Pima, Pinal and Maricopa Counties currently subscribe to this method, though the constitution provides for other counties to adopt merit selection through ballot initiative.) After appointment, judges serve for two years and then must run in a yes-no retention election in the next general election. If retained, judges will go on to serve a four-year term.
- In the state's other 13 counties, judges run in partisan primaries followed by non-partisan general elections. Interim vacancies are filled through gubernatorial appointment and newly appointed judges must run in the next general election.
The chief judge of each superior court is chosen by the supreme court. He or she serves in that capacity for the remainder of their four-year term.
Limited jurisdiction courts
|Justice Court||Municipal Court|
|Selection:||Partisan election||Appointment by city or town council*|
|Re-election method:||Contested election||Reappointment|
|Qualifications:||at least 18 years old; state resident; qualified voter in precinct; read and write English; law degree not required||vary by city; law degree may not be required|
|*Except in the City of Yuma, where municipal judges are elected.|
Judicial selection methods in Arizona have undergone significant changes in the last 100 years. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.
- 1992: Proposition 109 is approved by 58% of voters, establishing a formal judicial performance evaluation process. Because of the proposition:
- public committees are to screen and recommend candidates for appointment to the state's judicial nominating committees;
- the number of lawyer and non-lawyer members of the nominating commissions increased;
- the diversity of the state's population must be considered in selecting commission members and judicial candidates; and
- the county population cutoff for merit selection is raised from 150,000 to 250,000 (see Superior Courts section).
- 1974: Proposition 108 is passed, which made merit selection the reigning selection process of the supreme court, court of appeals, and superior courts (in counties with 150,000 people or more). The bill had been proposed almost fifteen years prior.
- 1970: The Commission on Judicial Qualifications (now called Commission on Judicial Conduct) is established by voters. The commission investigates complaints against state judges.
- 1965: The court of appeals is created by the legislature. Judges are to be elected by the people to six-year terms.
- 1960: The modern courts amendment was passed, changing many aspects of the state judiciary. The amendment:
- 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.
- 1912: The Superior Court is established by the Arizona Legislature. Judges of this court are elected by popular vote to four-year terms.
- 1910: The high court is established in Article 6 of the Arizona Constitution. It was ratified in December 1910, 14 months before Arizona achieved statehood.
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, considered unconstitutional among attorneys like Paul Eckstein who claimed that "you can't amend the Constitution with a statute," went into effect later in 2013.
Said Brewer's spokesman Matthew Benson, "For the governor, this was about creating more choice. … This will give her more options with qualified candidates."
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. 
Of those House and Senate bills, only one emerged to make it onto the ballot in 2012: the Arizona Judicial Selection Amendment (2012), also known as Proposition 115. Though defeated, the amendment aimed to:
- increase the terms of supreme court, court of appeals and Pima and Maricopa Superior Court judges' from six to eight years (for terms beginning after January 1, 2013).
- increase the mandatory 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 have allowed the governor to appoint four members and the Bar Association to appoint 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.
Arizona voters voted in the November 6, 2012 general election whether to pass this constitutional amendment. It was defeated 72% to 28%.
During this 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.
Selection of federal judges
United States District Court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.
The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America makes the appointments, which must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.
|Step||Candidacy Proceeds||Candidacy Halts|
|1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President||President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee||President declines nomination|
|2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate||Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation||Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee|
|3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation||Candidate becomes federal judge||Candidate does not receive judgeship|
- News: Arizona voters will vote on changes to judicial selection, April 29, 2011
- Arizona judicial elections
- Missouri Plan
- Partisan elections
- Non-partisan elections
- Retention elections
- Courts in Arizona
- American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: Arizona," accessed May 17, 2014
- US Legal, "Arizona State Courts," accessed May 22, 2014
- Arizona Republic, "Thomas charges chief judge with crimes," December 10, 2009
- Arizona Judicial Branch, "Justice Courts," accessed May 17, 2014
- American Judicature Society, "History of Reform Efforts: Arizona," accessed May 17, 2014
- Arizona Judicial Branch, "Arizona Courts: The Historical Perspective," accessed May 17, 2014
- East Valley Services, "New law gives Arizona governor more options for judge selections," April 5, 2013
- Arizona Central, "Effort targets judicial picks," July 16, 2013
- National Center for the State Courts, "Gavel to Gavel – Special Edition: Merit Selection," April 14, 2011
- Arizona State Legislature, "Senate Concurrent Resolution 1001," accessed May 20, 2014
- FindLaw.com, "Bennett v. Napolitano," December 4, 2003
- US Courts, "FAQ: Federal Judges"