Frequently Asked Questions – Judicial Elections

Running for public office can be a daunting task. Here are some answers to commonly asked questions about running for judicial office.

In the United States, anyone can run for judge. However, they need to meet certain qualifications to be eligible.

The qualifications vary from state to state but generally speaking, one needs to have a law degree and be licensed in the state in which they are running for judge.

Some states require that a person must be an attorney to run for judge. Other states allow any qualified adult citizen to run for judge, regardless of their profession or experience.

Generally, judges often have many years of experience in law before they become eligible for appointment and training as judges. This experience is necessary to be able to handle the heavy responsibility that comes with the position. Judges also need strong communication skills as they will often be required to speak in public, or give speeches at conferences.

A judge is typically an individual who is empowered to adjudicate at a law court. Judges are trained professionals who are tasked to make decisions in a court of law. They interpret the law and apply it to the facts of the case before them.

The judge’s decision making power usually depends on the type of court in which they serve. Judges can be chosen to serve in a number of different types of courts, including civil courts, criminal courts, family courts and administrative courts.

Skills needed to become a judge:

  • Extensive knowledge of law,
  • Ability to make sound judgments,
  • Excellent communication skills

To be a judge, you need experience in the legal field and be able to demonstrate an understanding of legal principles. You also need to have good interpersonal skills and be able to work well with others in order to maintain impartiality when presiding over cases.

Related:
Qualities of a good judge

Judges are usually elected by voters, appointed by the president, or selected by a state’s governor or legislature.

Some US states use partisan elections to choose judges, where candidates are nominated by political parties. These candidates are selected through partisan primaries.

In other states, judges run in nonpartisan elections. The judicial candidates do not reveal any party affiliation in the campaign. Parties might endorse candidates, but the candidate does not run with an association with a party.

Governor, county or state legislature-appointed judges are usually selected from those who have previously been elected as judges in their state or district. Depending on the state, they may serve for a term that is set out in their state constitution and then must be re-elected by voters if they wish to continue serving on the bench.

Presidential appointments are usually made when a judge retires or dies. The president also has the power to appoint judges to fill vacant positions. However, these appointments are not permanent and can be terminated at any time.

Additional information:
Judicial election methods by state – Ballotpedia

US states have partisan elections for judges. Some may have partisan elections for all judicial positions while others have it for some judges but not all of them.

The following states elect judges in partisan elections:

  • Alabama
  • Arizona – Both partisan and non-partisan elections.
  • Connecticut – Only holds elections for probate court judges.
  • Illinois
  • Indiana – Both partisan and non-partisan elections.
  • Kansas – Partisan primaries and nonpartisan general elections.
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Missouri
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Carolina – Only holds elections for probate court judges.
  • Tennessee
  • Texas
  • Vermont
  • West Virginia

Source: Ballotpedia

 

The following states elect judges in nonpartisan elections:

  • Arizona – Both partisan and non-partisan elections.
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana – Both partisan and non-partisan elections.
  • Kentucky
  • Maryland – Both partisan elections and retentions, depending on the court type.
  • Michigan
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio – Both partisan elections and retentions, depending on the court type.
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • South Dakota
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

Source: Ballotpedia

Judicial retention elections are a process in which voters decide whether or not to retain judges on the bench. Judges are not initially selected for a term using this election method.

The main purpose of retention elections is to determine whether or not a judge should be retained for another term. The election process includes a review of the judge’s qualifications and performance, as well as an evaluation of the judge’s experience and suitability for office.

Retention elections are nonpartisan. Judges standing for retention do not run “against” anyone; instead, they run to retain their positions, based on their performance in office. Judges are not allowed to actively campaign to stay in office unless they have an opposing candidate.

In Alaska, for example, the State Constitution requires a vote for sitting judges to be remain in office. Judges appear on general election ballot in even-numbered years. A judge remains in their position for another term if they get a majority of votes.

A candidate might want to run for judge because they have a deep understanding of the law and have a passion for justice. They might also want to be a judge because they are deeply committed to the law, public service, and want to give back to their community.

Generally, no. But it depends on the position and the laws of the state.

A judicial candidate is usually not allowed to raise money for their election. This means that they are prohibited from asking for donations, fundraising or accepting campaign cash from anyone. They can’t even accept a personal loan or in-kind donation of goods or services.

If you cannot raise money from outside sources for your judicial election, consider seeking endorsements from legal organizations and others to highlight your credentials.

This is a question that is often asked, but the answer is not always clear or straightforward. There are a number of ongoing campaigns to get judges to stop using social media. However, there are no strict rules about it.

  • Judges can use social media as long as they do not reveal any confidential information.
  • They are not allowed to take any information from social media and use it in court cases.

During an election, a candidate’s conduct may be under more scrutiny.

As a general rule, the Code of Conduct for Judges (which applies to Federal judges) states that judges should avoid any kind of public comment on political matters while they are running for office or if they have been elected. This includes anything from Facebook posts, tweets, and even live-streaming videos on YouTube or other platforms.

Check your state election laws for guidelines on social media use.

Related:
To Post or Not To Post: Judges’ Social Media Predicament

What kind of statements in campaign literature or signage might violate the Code of Judicial Conduct?

Political campaigns by judges and judicial candidates are governed by Canon 5 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

A judge or judicial candidate may not make statements that indicate an opinion on an issue that may be subject to judicial interpretation. This might include making statements about specific court cases or outside political issues.

A judge or judicial candidate may not make pledges or promises of conduct in office other than the fair and impartial performance of the duties. Saying  you will be ‘tough on crime’ or you are a ‘conservative judge’ is okay, being that they are statements of judicial philosophy.

Under Canon 5(2)(ii), a candidate may not knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, present position, or other fact concerning the candidate or an opponent. In other words, don’t make up or hint at things that are not true.

Accurate descriptions of your qualifications is all right, including prior positions held. For example, saying you are an ‘experienced prosecutor’ is permissible if you, indeed, have experience.

However, you should avoid criticizing an incumbent, as this may violate Canons 5(l) and 2A. You should also avoid using photographs of people who have not explicitly endorsed a candidate. While you may have met an officeholder at an event and had your picture taken with them, don’t include that picture in your campaign brochure unless that person has endorsed you.