|Methods of judicial selection|
|Commission selection, political appointment|
A retention election or judicial retention is a periodic process whereby a judge is subject to a vote during an election. A judge is removed from the position if the majority of those voting decree that it will be so.
In a retention election, the incumbent judge is not being evaluated against an opponent. Rather, he or she simply receives votes of yes to retain or no, do not retain.
Retention votes are frequently thought of in connection with the commission-selection, political appointment method of judicial selection. However, some states that choose state Supreme Court justices for their initial term in office using partisan or non-partisan elections use a retention election for subsequent terms on the court.
Typically, judges and justices in states with retention elections are retained with anywhere from 60-80% of the vote. However, retention elections are sometimes used as opportunities to remove from office judges who have made unpopular rulings. For example, in Iowa's 2010 retention election, David Baker, Marsha Ternus, and Michael Streit, three Iowa Supreme Court justices, were denied retention by slim margins because of the court's unpopular decision to legalize gay marriage.
States with retention elections for all level of courts
States with appellate court retention elections
States with retention elections following popular elections
For these states, once a judge has been elected to the court in a popular election, he or she stands for retention in subsequent elections.
Historical turnover information by state
- California: California adopted retention elections in 1934. As of 1986, not a single California Supreme Court justice had failed to be retained. In that year, however, Chief Justice Rose Bird and Justices Joseph Grodin and Cruz Reynoso were rejected by voters, receiving "no" votes of 66%, 65%, and 57%, respectively.
- Iowa: Since Iowa adopted a merit plan with retention elections in 1962, four judges have not been retained.
- Missouri: To date, no appellate judge in Missouri has ever lost a retention election.
- Nebraska: David Lanphier became Nebraska's first supreme court justice to lose a retention election; he was unseated in 1996, after having been appointed in 1992.
- Tennessee: Tennessee voters rejected the retention of then-Chief Justice Penny White in 1996. The state had just recently adopted judicial retention as its preferred method of judicial selection.
- Wyoming: Since Wyoming adopted merit selection of judges in 1972, five judges have been rejected by voters, including a supreme court justice whose 1992 bid for retention failed.
- Non-partisan election of judges
- Partisan election of judges
- Legislative election of judges
- Gubernatorial appointment of judges
- Judicial selection in the States: Trial Courts and General Jurisdiction
- Associated Press: "Removal of Iowa judges may inspire similar efforts," November 5, 2010 (dead link)
- CNN Politics: "Iowa voters oust justices who made same-sex marriage legal," November 3, 2010
- Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review, "Judicial Retention Elections," 2013
- American Judicature Society, "Judicial Selection in the States: Iowa," archived October 12, 2011
- The Wall Street Journal, "Grisham's Judicial Appeal," March 20, 2008
- American Judicature Society, "Judicial Selection in the States: Wyoming," archived November 5, 2011