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

Local judges that are typically elected to their positions include:

Justice of the peace: A justice of the peace is a person who has the power to administer oaths, perform marriages in some jurisdictions, and witness signatures. They also have the power to take affidavits. A judicial JP is appointed by the state government and can hear and decide cases in lower courts like small claims court.

County court judge: A county court judge is a judge that presides over cases in the county courts. In states with an administrative county court, it will act as executive agency for the local government. The qualifications for being a county court judge vary from state to state, but in general, some states require the candidate to be licensed to practice law before they can serve as a county court judge.

District Court Judges: These judges preside over a trial and decide the outcome of the case. They do not have jurisdiction to serve as appellate judges for other cases, but they can make decisions on issues such as deportation, bankruptcy, or child custody. For example, New York District Courts are elected to six-year terms in partisan elections. In Pennsylvania, magisterial district judges are elected for 6-year terms.

Municipal judge: A municipal court judge is someone who presides over the court cases in a municipality. They are usually appointed by the mayor and approved by the city council. The judge hears cases for violations of city ordinances, such as parking tickets or noise complaints, as well as other minor criminal matters. The duties of a municipal judge are to conduct hearings, rule on motions, and make decisions on sentencing for defendants. They also enforce the law by issuing citations or arresting people who have broken the law.

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

The duties of a local justice, or Justice of the Peace (JP), vary depending on the jurisdiction where they serve. Generally, a JP is a judicial officer who has limited power and authority in their community to handle certain legal matters. This could involve things like small claims court, traffic violations, and small criminal cases.

In some jurisdictions, JPs may also perform other duties. They may perform civil marriage ceremonies, issue warrants and subpoenas, and administer oaths and affirmations. Some also serve as mediators in disputes. If further proceedings are required in case, they refer cases to higher courts.

A JP may also be called a magistrate or a judge.

Unless they are appointed, a local justice is typically elected and serves a term of office. They preside over local courts and administer justice in their local communities. They are responsible for upholding the law, along with maintaining order, and ensuring citizen rights.

If you are planning to run for town justice, you should understand the role of a local justice. You’ll also want to know the legal and law enforcement issues facing the community.

Campaigning for town justice typically involves a mix of traditional and modern tactics. Traditional campaigning tactics for judicial candidates include neighborhood canvassing, holding events, and networking with local organizations. Modern tactics include social media outreach, targeted advertising, and online fundraising, if allowed. Dedicated volunteers will do much of this work.

As a judicial candidate, your election is less about issues and more about your personal skills and experience. Be prepared to give speeches, take part in debates, and have some media engagement. You’ll also need to plan ahead to deal with any problems that may arise during the campaign.

Running for town justice is a challenging but rewarding experience. You’ll need a strong commitment to public service. Understand the legal and law enforcement issues facing the community. Put together a strategy to communicate with voters. If you do this, you can win your election and serve on the bench with distinction.

Eligibility requirements for judicial candidates vary from state to state. They often differ between different types of judicial offices within the same state.

To run for a judgeship anywhere in the US, you must citizen and meet certain age and residency requirements. As you might expect, a law degree or other legal qualifications may also be needed. This could include experience as a lawyer or even as a judge in a lower court.

In some states, judicial candidates must also meet certain professional or ethical standards. They must maintain good standing with the state bar association. Conflicts of interest must also be avoided. Restrictions may also apply to their political activities. This includes limits on an individual’s ability to endorse or openly support other candidates. They are also not permitted to make partisan statements or hold partisan affiliations.

Here are some examples of state ballot laws for getting on the ballot:

Candidates for judicial office in California must file a candidacy declaration and pay a filing fee. A certain number of signatures from registered voters in their area are also required. The number of signatures varies depending on the specific office being sought.

In Texas,a petition must be filed with the Secretary of State’s office. A filing fee is also required. The petition requires that signatures be from registered voters in the candidate’s district or county. Again, this depends on the office being sought.

At judicial conventions, political parties in New York nominate candidates for judicial office. A party’s delegates at the convention is based on the number of votes it got in the last gubernatorial election. To get the party’s nomination and be on the ballot in the general election, he or she must get a certain number of votes from the delegates.

In Florida, people who want to be judges must file a statement of qualifications and pay a filing fee. They must also turn in a certain number of signatures from local registered voters. The number of required signatures varies depending on the office being sought.

These are just a few state examples, and the rules vary from state to state. Candidates should consult the election laws and regulations in their jurisdiction. You can find them online or may be available through your local election office. Consider speaking with an attorney or an election legal expert for more information.

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.

Announcing your candidacy for judge is a process that involves a lot of preparation and planning. When doing so, it is important that you can fully answer the question: “Why are you running for judicial office?” You should have a clear understanding of the issues and how you plan to address them if elected to the bench.

There are several different ways that candidates can prepare for announcing their candidacy for judge

A campaign website should be created to provide information about you and your platform. This site should include your biography, legal experience, and contact information. Make sure it is easy to navigate and has clear call-to-action so others can get involved in the campaign.

A press release should be drafted to announce your candidacy to the public. It should provide information on the candidate’s background and judicial temperament. Press releases should be distributed to local newspapers and news organizations in your jurisdiction, as well as published online. The release should include your contact information, along with a link back to your campaign website.

The announcement should include:

  •  Your name,
  •  Your profession,
  •  The position you are seeking,
  •  Why you are qualified for the position, and
  •  A brief biography.

If you can, use social media channels also help spread the word. Platforms like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube should also be used to announce your candidacy. Share updates about why you want to serve as judge and your qualifications. Note that some judicial candidates may not be able to use social media for campaigning.

Announcing your candidacy is a big step, and will immediately put you in the public eye. It is important to be prepared and be ready for the next steps of your campaign.

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.

The questions that are asked to judical candidates are usually related to issues facing the law and the judiciary.  The interviewers want to learn as much as they can about the candidate.

  • Why are you running for judge?
  • What are your qualifications for sitting on the bench?
  • Will you decide cases fairly and impartially, free of political influence?
  • Regardless of your own personal views, will you follow established law?
  • Is there a specific issue that you find particularly important?
  • How do you plan to address that issue?
  • As a judge, how would you improve the court’s interaction with the public?

You can expect these types of questions may be asked for local newspaper and media interviews, and even by voters at events or on the campaign trail.

Interviews can often go into more depth. Here are 10 additional interview questions that are a bit harder.

Judicial candidates are often subjected to interviews by the media, members of the community, and others. Interviews shed light on the candidate’s views on the justice system and if they can serve in a fair and impartial manner.

Candidates are typically asked a wide range of questions. They may be asked about personal beliefs, legal knowledge, experience, and management style. A judicial candidate must prepare their responses ahead of time.

Here are 10 questions that any judicial candidate can expect to be asked:

  1. What inspired you to become a judicial candidate?
  2. What is your experience with the law and legal system?
  3. How do you plan to ensure impartiality and fairness in your rulings?
  4. How do you view the role of a judge and the judiciary in society?
  5. How do you plan to manage a caseload and prioritize cases?
  6. What is your approach to dealing with difficult or controversial cases?
  7. How would you handle a situation where your personal beliefs conflict with established law or legal precedent?
  8. What are the most pressing community issues related to the courts and law enforcement?
  9. What are your thoughts on alternative dispute resolution methods, such as mediation and arbitration?
  10. How do you stay informed and up-to-date on legal developments and changes in the law?

Judicial candidates who prepare are more likely to interview well. A good interview can help earn the trust of their constituents.

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

A judicial candidate is usually not allowed to raise money themselves 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 about cases or litigants.
  • They are not allowed to take any information from social media and use it in deciding court cases.

During an election, a candidate’s conduct come under even 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
Dos and Don’t for Social Media

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. There are many candidates who make these claims during an election campaign.

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.