Tagretention election

Retention elections and judicial partisanship

State supreme court justices facing retention elections won re-election more often than their counterparts in states using other systems of judicial selection, according to Ballotpedia’s recently-published study on state supreme courts.

Between 2008 and 2019, 155 justices have faced retention elections. Incumbent justices won 152 (98%) of these elections. Since 2008, there have been 196 non-retention elections with incumbent justices. The incumbent justices won 176 (90%) of these elections. Incumbent justices experienced a 93% win rate across all selection methods.

The most recent retention election to result in an incumbent losing occurred November 3, 2020, in Illinois. Justice Thomas Kilbride, who recorded a Mild Democrat Confidence Score, did not receive the necessary 60% of the vote needed to win retention. In 2014, Justice Lloyd Karmeier faced opposition in his retention election bid for his seat on the Illinois Supreme Court. He was retained by a margin of 0.8 percentage points. Karmeier recorded a Mild Republican Confidence Score. Illinois has been a Democratic trifecta for 14 out of the last 18 years.

Between 2008 and 2019, Iowa was the only state with retention elections where justices were not retained. Iowa Supreme Court justices Marsha K. Ternus, Michael J. Streit, and David L. Baker lost their retention elections in 2010. Ternus was appointed by Republican Governor Terry Branstad, while Baker and Streit were appointed by Democratic governors. They were replaced by Bruce Zager, Thomas Waterman, and Edward Mansfield, all three of whom were appointed by Republican governor Terry Branstad in 2011.

Retention elections are meant to give voters an opportunity to evaluate judges after their first years on the state supreme court. Missouri’s Nonpartisan Court Plan reads in part: “The nonpartisan plan also gives the voters a chance to have a say in the retention of judges selected under the plan…. The purpose of this vote is to provide another accountability mechanism of the nonpartisan plan to ensure quality judges.”

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Three Maryland Court of Appeals justices seek retention in November

Maryland Court of Appeals Justices Brynja McDivitt Booth, Jonathan Biran, and Mary Ellen Barbera are all seeking retention on November 3, 2020. Booth and Biran were appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) while Barbera was appointed by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D).

Currently, three of the seven justices on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor while four were appointed by a Republican governor.

The governor appoints the seven justices of the appellate court with the assistance of a judicial nominating commission. The Maryland Appellate Courts Judicial Nominating Commission is made up of 17 members, all appointed by the governor. Five of these members are first nominated by the Maryland State Bar Association. After the governor appoints a justice, the Maryland Senate must then confirm the appointment.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least one year on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years with a mandatory retirement age of 70. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Maryland, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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Two Colorado Supreme Court justices seek retention in November

Colorado Supreme Court Justices Melissa Hart and Carlos Armando Samour Jr. are standing for retention election on November 3, 2020. Both justices were appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D).

Currently, six of the seven justices on the court were appointed by a Democratic governor. Of those, five were appointed by Hickenlooper.

• Brian Boatright Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2011
• Nathan Coats Appointed by Gov. Bill Owens (R) in 2000
• Richard Gabriel Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2015
• Melissa Hart Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2017
• William W. Hood Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2014
• Monica Márquez Appointed by Gov. Bill Ritter (D) in 2010

• Carlos Armando Samour Jr. Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in 2018

The governor appoints justices to the court from a shortlist of two or three names assembled by the Colorado Judicial Nominating Convention. The convention is composed of 15 voting members. Eight are non-lawyers appointed by the governor and seven are lawyers jointly appointed by the governor, attorney general, and chief justice. No more than half the members of the committee plus one may belong to the same political party.

New justices must face a retention election during the next general election after they serve at least two years on the bench. Justices then stand for retention every ten years. Since 2008, justices facing retention elections have won 98% of the time. In Colorado, there has not been a single justice that lost retention during this same time frame.

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