Judicial selection in Louisiana

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Louisiana
Seal of Louisiana.png
Louisiana Supreme Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Louisiana Courts of Appeal
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   10 years
Louisiana District Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years
Louisiana Family Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years
Louisiana Juvenile Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years
Louisiana Justice of the Peace Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   6 years

Selection of the state court judges in Louisiana occurs through the partisan election of judges. While the general jurisdiction courts have varying policies on judge qualifications, chief justice selection and term length, they share common regulations on re-election and the filling of interim vacancies. Likewise, the limited jurisdiction courts function largely the same across the board, differing primarily in judge qualifications.[1]

Supreme Court

See also: Partisan election of judges

There are seven justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court, each elected to ten-year terms. They must face re-election if they wish to serve again.[1] For more information about these elections, visit the Louisiana judicial elections page.

Unlike most states, supreme court justices in Louisiana are elected to represent specific districts. The seven justices are divided evenly among seven supreme court districts (not to be confused with the 42 divisions of the district courts) and are voted into office by the residents of their respective regions.[2] Only the states of Illinois, Kentucky and Mississippi use a similar system.

The chief justice is the justice on the court with the most seniority. When he or she retires, the justice with the next most seniority becomes chief justice.[1]

Qualifications

To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • licensed to practice law in the state for at least ten years;
  • a resident of the district representing for at least one year;
  • under the age of 70 at the time of election (judges who turn 70 in office may serve until their term expires)[1][3]

These specific requirements are fairly new; visit the History section below to see when these policies on term length and residency came into being.

Vacancies

Per Article V of the Louisiana Constitution, midterm vacancies are to be temporarily filled by the remaining members of the supreme court. Within one year of the opening, a special election (called by the governor, preferably on the date of a preexisting gubernatorial or congressional election) is to be held. If the supreme court has appointed a successor, that appointee may not run for the seat in the special election.[1][4]

This provision barring appointees from running in special elections was added to the constitution in 1974. Delegates to the 1973 Louisiana Constitutional Convention complained that 60% of sitting judges had been initially appointed, an indication that appointees received an unfair electoral advantage. At the time, judicial vacancies were filled by the governor; the measure was enacted to (1) curtail the governor's power in the matter and (2) remove the appointees' electoral advantage.[5] United States District Judge Tom Stagg said of the clause,

Some mystique attaches itself to a man that once he achieves the seat on the bench and he puts on the black robe and then the time for the election comes for him to run permanently for that job. … I think that's an unfair advantage over every other lawyer who might want to seek that post who might be equally qualified but does not have the governor's blessing to get there in the first instance.

[6]

Tom Stagg[5]

Court of Appeals

See also: Partisan election of judges

There are 53 justices on the Louisiana Courts of Appeal, each elected to ten-year terms. All aspects of selection are shared with the Louisiana Supreme Court, including regulations on re-election, chief justices and judicial qualifications. Interim vacancies, too, are temporarily filled by supreme court appointment.[1]

District Courts

See also: Partisan election of judges

There are 217 judges on the Louisiana District Courts, each elected to six-year terms. The district courts share the Louisiana Supreme Court's regulations on re-election and interim vacancies (which are temporarily filled by the supreme court), but judicial qualifications are slightly looser. And unlike the supreme court, the district courts select chief judges by peer vote (with term lengths that vary by individual court).[1]

Qualifications

To serve on this court, a judge must be:

  • licensed to practice law in the state for at least eight years;
  • a resident of the district represented for at least one year; and
  • under the age of 70 at the time of election (judges who turn 70 in office may serve until their term expires)[1][3]

Like the supreme court qualifications, these specific requirements are fairly new; visit the History section below to see when these policies on term length and residency came into being.

Limited jurisdiction courts

Louisiana's limited jurisdiction courts (Family Courts, Juvenile Courts, Parish Courts, City Courts, Mayor's Courts and Justice of the Peace Courts) vary in their selection processes:[7][8]

Family Court Juvenile Court Justice of the Peace Court Parish Court City Court Mayor's Court
Selection: Partisan election Partisan election Partisan election Partisan election Partisan election Varies
Term: 6 year term 6 year term 6 year term 6 year term 6 year -
Re-election method: Contested election Contested election Contested election Contested election Contested election Varies
Qualifications: 8 years state practice; 1 year parish resident; law degree; maximum age of 70 8 years state practice; 1 year local resident; law degree; maximum age of 70 2 years local resident; law degree; maximum age of 70 8 years state practice; 1 year local resident; law degree; maximum age of 70 5 years state practice; 2 years local resident; law degree; maximum age of 70 2 years local resident; maximum age of 70

History

Judicial selection methods in Louisiana have undergone significant changes in the last 200 years. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.

  • 2006 (effective January 2008): The constitution is amended to increase the minimum legal experience required of judicial candidates. The requirements are raised from 5 years for all judges to 8 years for district, family, parish and juvenile court judges and 10 years for appellate court judges. It also reduces the residency qualifications, requiring that candidates live in their respective regions for only one year prior to election.
  • 2000: The supreme court districts are redrawn, allowing for seven districts with one justice elected from each.
  • 1974: Terms of supreme court justices and court of appeals judges are reduced to ten years.
  • 1921: Terms of supreme court justices are increased to fourteen years, court of appeals judges to twelve years and district court judges to six years.
  • 1906: Court of appeals judges are elected by popular vote to eight-year terms.
  • 1904: Supreme court justices are elected by popular vote to twelve-year terms.
  • 1879: Terms of supreme court justices are increased to twelve years. The court of appeals is created, with judges to be elected to eight-year terms by joint ballot of the legislature.
  • 1986: Terms of district court judges are reduced to four years.
  • 1864: All judges are appointed to eight-year terms by the governor (with senate consent).
  • 1852: Supreme court justices are elected by popular vote to ten-year terms. District court judges are elected by popular vote to eight-year terms.
  • 1845: Terms of all judges are reduced from life to eight-years.
  • 1812: All judges are appointed for life by the governor (with senate consent).[9]

Opinions on selection

Varying opinions exist on judicial selection methods. Writes Todd Edwards, representative of the Southern Legislative Conference,

Throughout America’s history, there has been protracted debate over the best method of selecting judges. The dilemma has been how to select judges by means consistent with the nation’s democratic values, and at the same time insulating the bench from political and special interest influence. The debate has come to the forefront in recent years as judicial elections in a number of states have become increasingly costly, contested and negative.

[6]

—Todd Edwards[10]

Noticing this trend, those seeking an alternative to Louisiana's current selection methods may propose a system of merit selection (see below) or of gubernatorial or legislative appointment. Both of these methods aim to eliminate the "political and special interest influence" mentioned by Edwards and prevent ulterior motives from seeping into the judiciary.[10]

While opponents of judicial elections may claim that campaign contributions from lawyers and corporations may tip the scales of justice, others like Louisiana political commentator John Maginnis believe that contributions "help elect candidates who share views with contributors rather than to cause a justice, once elected to a ten-year term, to reshape his or her judicial philosophy on a case-by-case basis in order to follow the money."[11]

Ultimately, Edwards writes,

While each judicial selection method has its merits, all have distinct drawbacks and, despite efforts to remove politics from judicial selection, each method has inherent political overtones. Whether states opt to elect judges or appoint them through merit selection, striking a balance in order to maintain judicial independence and impartiality is most often the desired end result, and also the most challenging to achieve.

[6]

—Todd Edwards[10]

Merit selection

According to the American Judicature Society, Louisiana was "one of the first states, if not the first, to consider appointing judges through merit process," an alternative method of selection currently used in some form by 33 states. Through merit selection, potential judges are chosen by a commission or board instead of by popular vote.[12] The names of those selected may then be sent to the governor or state legislature for confirmation, and after serving an initial term the judge may run unopposed in a yes-or-no retention election.[10]

At the 1921 constitutional convention, a plan was proposed for the governor to appoint state judges from a list of nominees provided by the supreme court—but the convention ultimately decided to stick to the existing method. Similar plans have been introduced many times since then (in fact, since 1978 at least one constitutional amendment for merit selection has been proposed in all but one legislative session) but each has failed to materialize.[12]

Changing selection methods

Since judicial selection methods are outlined in the state constitution, changes to them must be made by constitutional amendment. Amendments may be proposed through joint resolution (with approval from two thirds of the house of representatives and the senate) and approved by a majority of voters.[13]

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 nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the U.S. Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[14]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD 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

See also

External links

References

LouisianaLouisianaLouisiana Supreme CourtLouisiana Courts of AppealLouisiana District CourtsLouisiana Family CourtsLouisiana Juvenile CourtsLouisiana Parish CourtsLouisiana City CourtsLouisiana Municipal CourtsLouisiana Traffic CourtsLouisiana Justice of the Peace CourtsLouisiana Mayor’s CourtsUnited States District Court for the Eastern District of LouisianaUnited States District Court for the Middle District of LouisianaUnited States District Court for the Western District of LouisianaUnited States bankruptcy court, Eastern District of LouisianaUnited States bankruptcy court, Middle District of LouisianaUnited States bankruptcy court, Western District of LouisianaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Fifth CircuitLouisiana parishesLouisiana judicial newsLouisiana judicial electionsJudicial selection in LouisianaLouisianaTemplate.jpg