Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) appointed Maria Berkenkotter to the Colorado Supreme Court on November 20, 2020. Berkenkotter will succeed Chief Justice Nathan Coats, who is retiring in January 2021 when he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 72. Berkenkotter is Polis’s first nominee to the seven-member supreme court.
Under Colorado law, state supreme court justices are selected through the assisted appointment method. The governor chooses an appointee from a list of candidates submitted by the judicial nominating commission. Initial terms on the supreme court last at least two years, after which justices stand in retention elections. Subsequent terms last 10 years.
Berkenkotter was a judge for the Twentieth Judicial District Court in Colorado from 2006 to 2017. She was appointed by former Governor Bill Owens (R) and became chief judge in 2013.
Prior to joining the Twentieth Judicial District Court, Berkenkotter ran the Antitrust, Consumer Protection, and Tobacco Litigation Units of the Attorney General’s office. Previously, she practiced law at Holmes & Starr, P.C. in Denver.
Berkenkotter earned a J.D. from the University of Denver Law School in 1987.
The Colorado Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. As of November 2020, six judges on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor, and one judge was appointed by a Republican governor.
In 2020, there have been 22 supreme court vacancies in 16 of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. One vacancy occurred when a chief justice died, and 21 vacancies were caused by retirements.