TagState courts

State supreme court incumbents experienced a 93% win rate from 2008-2019

Incumbents tend to do better in elections for any office than newcomers facing incumbents. This is no less true in state supreme court elections. Across all types of state supreme court elections, incumbent justices running for re-election won 93% of the time from 2008-2019. No more than six incumbent justices have lost in a single year during this time frame. 2008 was the year with the lowest incumbent win rate at 89%.

Among the 38 states that conduct elections for supreme court justices, 11 have seen incumbents lose elections from 2008-2019. These were Alabama, Iowa, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. In the other 27 states, incumbent supreme court justices won re-election 100% of the time from 2008-2019.

Thirty-five states are holding state supreme court elections in 2020. In total, 84 of the nation’s 344 state supreme court seats are up for election.

Of these seats, at the start of 2020:

  • 60 are held by non-partisan justices
  • 17 are held by Republican justices
  • Seven are held by Democratic justices

Twenty-nine states are holding their judicial elections on November 3, 2020. Five states are holding their judicial elections before that date, and one state is holding its judicial elections in December.

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Reynolds appoints third justice to the Iowa State Supreme Court

On January 28, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) made her third appointment to the Iowa State Supreme Court when she chose Dana Oxley to fill the vacancy left by Chief Justice Mark Cady.

Reynold’s described Justice Oxley saying, “She’s smart, she’s articulate, she’s hard-working, she brings a breadth of experience to the court.” This will be the first time in the state’s history that two women have shared the bench. Governor Reynolds stated that “We need more women in the courts, yes but I don’t make my decision based on gender. They earned those selections.”

As a result of Oxley’s appointment, five of the seven justices on the court have been appointed by Republican governors. Reynolds previously appointed Susan Christensen and Christopher McDonald. Those two appointments initially moved the court’s balance towards justices appointed by Republican governors. Chief Justice David Wiggins will retire in March 2020. If Reynolds appoints his replacement, six of the seven justices on the Iowa Supreme Court will have been appointed by Republican governors, four of them by Reynolds.

Iowa uses the assisted appointment method to select justices, meaning that the governor must select an appointment from a list of three nominees recommended by the Iowa Judicial Nominating Commission.

In Justice Oxley’s application for nomination, she wrote that during her clerkship with U.S. Appeals Court Judge David Hansen she learned “the art of judicial restraint.” She explained that, “while legal issues may have lurked on the edges of a case that were more interesting than the ones that were brought in the parties’ briefs, our adversarial system works best when lawyers are allowed to bring the issues that are most important to their clients to the courts.” In her application she also claimed that the court should “not blindly apply its prior decisions but must be vigilant in protecting the rule of law.”

Click here to learn more about judicial selection in Iowa.
Click here to learn more about the Iowa Supreme Court.
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Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Indeglia to retire, governor to appoint first nominee to court

Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Gilbert Indeglia is retiring on June 30, 2020. Indeglia joined the court in April 2010 after being nominated by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R). Before that, Indeglia was a judge on the Rhode Island Superior Court from 2000 to 2010 and on the Rhode Island District Court from 1989 to 2000. From 1985 to 1991, Indeglia was a Republican member of the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He received his B.A. from Boston College in 1963 and his J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 1966.

State court judges in Rhode Island are chosen using the assisted appointment method. Rhode Island Supreme Court justices are appointed by the governor with help from the state Judicial Nominating Commission. Supreme court nominees must be approved by both the state House and the state Senate. Indeglia’s replacement will be Governor Gina Raimondo’s (D) first nominee to the five-member supreme court.

The Rhode Island Judicial Nominating Commission has nine members, four of whom must be attorneys. Five commissioners are selected by the governor with input from the speaker of the House, the state Senate president, and the minority leaders of the state legislature. The remaining four are selected solely by the governor.

Rhode Island is one of only three states where judges serve lifetime terms, and, of those states, it is the only one without a mandatory retirement age.

The Rhode Island Supreme Court is the state’s court of last resort. It currently includes the following justices:

  • Francis Flaherty – Appointed by Gov. Donald Carcieri (R) in 2003
  • Maureen McKenna Goldberg – Appointed by Gov. Lincoln Almond (R) in 1997
  • Gilbert Indeglia – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2010
  • William Robinson – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2004
  • Paul Suttell – Appointed by Gov. Carcieri in 2003

In 2020, there have been seven supreme court vacancies in six of the 29 states where replacement justices are appointed instead of elected. The vacancies were caused by retirements. Four vacancies are in states where a Democratic governor appoints the replacement. The other three are in states where a Republican governor appoints the replacement.

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Lawsuit filed in recall effort in Leon Valley, Texas

Five Leon Valley residents have filed a lawsuit to place a recall election on the May 2 ballot. Councilmembers Donna Charles and Monica Alcocer were targeted for recall after a 2-1 vote in August 2019 to remove Councilmember Benny Martinez. Charles and Alcocer voted in favor of removing Martinez due to allegations of sexual harassment as well as undermining Leon Valley’s legal department, community development department, police department, and the city manager. Martinez responded to the allegations by saying, “There is no validity to any of them. I deny all charges against me. This is a witch hunt to get me off the City Council.”

Petitioners were required to submit 500 valid signatures for each official to put the recalls on the ballot. More than 1,600 signatures were submitted for verification against Charles and Alcocer in November 2019. Scheduling for the recall election was on the city council’s agenda on January 21, but the matter wasn’t taken up during that meeting. A lawsuit to put the recall on the ballot was filed with the Fourth Court of Appeals on January 24.

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Bowman replaces Schindler on the Washington Court of Appeals

Gov. Jay Inslee (D) appointed Bill Bowman to the Washington Court of Appeals on January 24, 2020. Bowman fills the vacancy left by former judge Ann Schindler, who retired effective December 31, 2019.

Bowman previously served as a judge for the King County Superior Court. He held several roles as a superior court judge, including those of assistant chief criminal judge, chief judge of the Maleng Regional Justice Center, and assistant presiding judge, the last of which he held at the time of his appellate appointment.

In addition to his judicial career, Bowman has worked as a trial attorney and was also deputy prosecuting attorney for King County. He earned his J.D. from the California Western School of Law.

Bowman is one of ten Division I judges on the Washington Court of Appeals. Unlike the Washington Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals is a non-discretionary appellate court, meaning it must review and rule on all appeals filed with it.

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Governor Newsom appoints Jackson to California Court of Appeal

On January 21, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom’s (D) appointee to the California First District Court of Appeal—Justice Terri L. Jackson—was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. Justice Jackson is now the first female, African-American justice to sit on the California First District Court of Appeal.

Before her appointment, Jackson served as a judge on the Superior Court of San Francisco from 2002 to 2020. She was also the first African-American woman appointed to the Superior Court of San Francisco. Before serving as a judge, Jackson worked as an attorney and served in the San Francisco District Attorney’s office.

California’s First District Court of Appeal is one of six courts of appeal in California. The First District Court serves the residents of 12 Northern California counties: Alameda, Contra Costa, Del Norte, Humboldt, Lake, Marin, Mendocino, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Solano, and Sonoma. The district reviews more than 2,000 criminal, civil, and juvenile appeals and more than 1,300 original proceedings annually.

Justice Jackson replaced Justice Martin Jenkins, who resigned from the bench to serve as Governor Newsom’s judicial appointments secretary. Jenkins served on the California First District Court of Appeal from 2008-2019.

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