Partisan election of judges
A partisan election is one where the candidates are listed on the ballot along with a label designating the political party's ballot on which they are running.
Seven states elect their Supreme Court justices in partisan elections.
Those states are:
Altogether, 58 state high court justices (eighteen in Texas alone) are elected to office in partisan elections, which is about 17% of all 338 state supreme court justices.
Three additional states, Michigan, North Carolina and Ohio, have an electoral process that includes partisan and non-partisan elements. In Ohio, candidates for the Ohio general election are chosen in partisan primaries; once chosen in this partisan fashion, no party affiliation is listed by candidates' names on the general election ballot. Candidates for the Michigan Supreme Court are nominated at party conventions, which means that they are chosen in a partisan fashion. However, no partisan affiliation is listed by their name as it appears on the ballot. In North Carolina, the Supreme Court elections are non-partisan, but party affiliations are made obvious throughout the campaign process.
If these justices are added in the total percentage of state Supreme Court candidates elected on party line, the total is about 23%, or 79 out of 338 justices.
Initial and subsequent elections
In these states, Supreme Court justices are elected in partisan elections, and then again stand for partisan elections for subsequent terms:
- Alabama. There are nine justices on the Alabama Supreme Court. They serve six year terms.
- Louisiana. The seven justices on the Louisiana Supreme Court serve ten-year terms.
- Texas. Texas has two courts of last resort, Texas Supreme Court and the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. There are nine justices on each court; they all serve six-year terms.
- West Virginia. The five justices on the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia serve twelve-year terms.
Altogether, forty-six justices on state Supreme Courts are elected and then re-elected in partisan elections, of the 338 justices in all states, or 13%.
Initial election, subsequent retention votes
In the states below, Supreme Court justices are elected in partisan elections for their first term in office. For subsequent terms in office, they are chosen (or rejected) in a retention election with no opponent.
- Illinois. The seven justices of the Illinois Supreme Court serve ten-year terms.
- New Mexico. The five justices of the New Mexico Supreme Court serve eight-year terms.
- Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The seven justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court serve ten-year terms.
Altogether, nineteen justices on state Supreme Courts are elected first in partisan elections, and then subsequently continue in office through retention votes.
Intermediate appellate courts
Judges of the intermediate appellate courts are selected in methods identical to those of the state Supreme Courts.
There are 114 levels of trial courts across the nation; for example, the State of Washington has two levels of trial courts, the Washington Superior Court and Washington District Courts. Serving on these courts are over 16,000 judges, who are elected in a myriad of ways.
By state, many more state trial court judges participate in partisan elections than appellate court judges. While only eight states hold partisan elections for appellate judges, in nineteen states trial court judges participate in partisan elections.
States with partisan elections for all trial courts
Of those eighteen states, in eight, trial court judges at all levels of the courts participate in partisan elections. Those are:
Notably, almost all of these states also hold partisan elections for the appellate courts.
Note: All judges in Ohio participate in partisan primaries and a non-partisan general election.
States with partisan Probate Court elections
In four states, judges only compete in partisan elections for the Probate Courts. Interestingly, the only judges that run for election in these states are Probate Court judges. Otherwise, judges are appointed or elected by the legislature. Those states are:
States with varied methods of selection for trial court judges
The six states below have varied methods of judicial selection for their trial courts judges.
- Indiana: In Indiana, judges of the Probate Court, County Court, and Small Claims Court are selected in partisan elections. Judges of the Circuit Courts are selected either in partisan or non-partisan elections, and judges of the Superior Courts are selected using commission-selected, political appointment or partisan elections. The distinction in both these levels is determined by county. For more information on Indiana, visit: Judicial selection in Indiana.
- Kansas: Kansas has only one level of trial court. On the District Courts, judges are selected using either commission-based, political appointment method or partisan elections. The method of selection is left to the voters of the judicial district. For more on Kansas, see: Judicial selection in Kansas.
- Missouri: The majority of judges of the Circuit Courts compete in partisan elections, with the exception of those located in Kansas City, Springfield and St. Louis.
- New York: All trial court judges participate in partisan elections, which the exception of those serving on the New York Family Courts.
Montana non-partisan elections ruled unconstitutional
On September 17, 2012, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Montana's non-partisan election system, finding it to be unconstitutional. Political parties are now legally able to support or oppose judicial candidates in Montana.
- Non-partisan election of judges
- Commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection
- Legislative election of judges
- State Supreme Court justices