Colin Powell, former Secretary of State
State Court Issues
States: the Judicial Battleground
In 38 states, at least some appellate and major trial court judges face the voters, either in traditional competitive elections or in one-candidate “retention” elections.* Twenty-two states hold at least some competitive elections for Supreme Court justices.
Since 2000, elected Supreme Courts have been Ground Zero of an unprecedented money war, in which competing groups have spent tens of millions on negative ads, in an attempt to pack courts with judges friendly to their agendas.
This “new politics of judicial elections” has threatened public confidence in elected courts and, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2009, can undermine a litigant’s right to a fair, impartial hearing.
Key state issues and reforms concern the growing expenditure of money to elect judges and whether judges should be elected or appointed to the bench. Other issues include the tone and speech of judicial campaigns, informing voters about judicial performance, and ensuring adequate funding for the courts in a time of financial crisis.
Three U.S. Supreme Court cases have focused on issues relating to judicial elections. To learn about these cases, including Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010) and Caperton v. Massey (2009), see Justice at Stake and the U.S. Supreme Court.
- Money & Elections
- Public Financing
- Campaign Disclosure Laws
- Competitive Elections versus Judicial Appointments
- Recusal Reform
- Judicial Accountability/Performance Evaluations
- Judicial Speech/Questionnaires
- Negative Campaigning
- Impeachment Threats
- Court Funding
To learn more, see the State Resources Page.
To learn more about state and federal courts, see America's Courts: A Primer
* In retention elections, voters cast a yes or no vote on whether to keep an incumbent judge in office for another term.