Tennessee: should legislature set terms for trial court judges? All 50 states put terms in state constitution for main trial courts, but House member wants the power to set.

Last year around this time I noted a proposal submitted to the Tennessee House (HJR 91) that would repeal the constitutional clause that judges of Tennessee’s main trial courts would serve for 8 years. The plan is now back and set for a hearing before a subcommittee of the House Civil Justice Committee tomorrow (February 3)

At present the state’s constitution specifies an 8 year term for the state’s main trial courts (i.e. courts other than Municipal Courts).

The Judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other Inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned. Every judge of such courts shall be thirty years of age, and shall before his election, have been a resident of the state for five years, and of the circuit or district one year. His term of service shall be eight years.

The proposal deletes the last sentence and replaces it with.

The term of service shall be set by the general assembly.

When it comes to state general jurisdiction courts, no state gives unrestricted power to the legislature to set the terms. 48 state constitutions give specific terms of office. 2 states (Iowa and Ohio) set minimum terms and theoretically allow the legislature to set even longer terms (Iowa: “shall not be less than six years”; Ohio: “for terms of not less than six years”.) A 50 state examination of such provisions is below the fold.

State General Jurisdiction Court Full Term Constitutional Provision Language
Alabama Circuit 6 years Amendment 328; Art. 6, Sec. 15 The term of office of each judge of a court of the judicial system of this state shall be six years.
Alaska Superior 6 years Art.VI, Sec. 6 Thereafter, each supreme court justice shall be subject to approval or rejection in a like manner every tenth year, and each superior court judge, every sixth year.
Arizona Superior 4 years Art. VI, Sec. 12 They shall hold office for a regular term of four years…
Arkansas Circuit 6 years Amendment 80, Sec. 16 They shall serve six-year terms.
California Superior 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 16 Terms of judges of superior courts are six years
Colorado District 6 years Art VI, Sec. 10 The full term of office of a district judge shall be six years.
Connecticut Superior 8 years Art. XXV, Sec. 2 The judges of the supreme court and of the superior court…shall hold their offices for the term of eight years.
Delaware Court of Chancery & Superior Courts 12 years Art. V, Sec. 3 [T]he Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor or Vice-Chancellors, the President Judge and Judges of the Superior Court…shall be appointed by the Governor, by and with the consent of a majority of all the members elected to the Senate, for the term of 12 years each…
Florida Circuit 6 years Art. V, Sec. 11 The terms of circuit judges and judges of county courts shall be for six years.
Georgia Superior 4 years Art. VI, Sec. 7 All superior court and state court judges shall be elected on a nonpartisan basis for a term of four years.
Hawaii Circuit 10 years Art. VI, Sec. 3 The term of office of justices and judges of the supreme court, intermediate appellate court and circuit courts shall be ten years
Idaho District 4 years Art. V, Sec. 11 The state shall be divided into five judicial districts, for each of which a judge shall be chosen by the qualified electors thereof, whose term of office shall be four years.
Illinois Circuit 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 10 The terms of office of Supreme and Appellate Court Judges shall be ten years; of Circuit Judges, six years; and of Associate Judges, four years.
Indiana Circuit 6 years Art. VII, Sec. 7 The [Circuit Judge] shall hold his office for the term of six years.
Iowa District 6 years Art. V, Sec. 17 Members of all courts shall have such tenure in office as may be fixed by  law,  but  terms  of  supreme  court  judges  shall  be not  less  than  eight  years  and  terms  of  district  court  judges shall  be  not  less  than  six  years.
Kansas District 4 years Art. III, Sec. 6 The term of office of each judge of the district court shall be four years.
Kentucky Circuit 8 years Sec. 119 Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of the Court of Appeals and Circuit Court shall severally hold their offices for terms of eight years…
Louisiana District 6 years Art. V, Sec. 15 The term of a district, parish, or city court judge shall be six years.
Maine District and Superior Courts 7 years Art. VI, Sec. 4 All judicial officers appointed by the Governor shall hold their offices for the term of 7 years from the time of their respective appointments
Maryland Circuit 15 years Art. IV, Sec. 3 Each of the said Judges shall hold his office for the term of fifteen years from the time of his election…
Massachusetts All Courts Until mandatory retirement Article XCVIII All judicial officers, duly appointed, commissioned and sworn, shall hold their offices during good behavior…provided further, that upon attaining seventy years of age said judges shall be retired.
Michigan Circuit 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 12 Circuit judges shall be nominated and elected at non-partisan elections in the circuit in which they reside, and shall hold office for a term of six years
Minnesota District 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 7 The term of office of all judges shall be six years
Mississippi Circuit 4 years Art. VI, Sec. 153 The judges of the circuit and chancery courts shall be elected by the people in a manner and at a time to be provided by the legislature and the judges shall hold their office for a term of four years.
Missouri Circuit 6 years Art. V, Sec. 19 Judges of the supreme court and of the court of appeals shall be selected for terms of twelve years, judges of the circuit courts for terms of six years…
Montana District 6 years Art. VII, Sec. 7 Terms of office shall be eight years for supreme court justices, six years for district court judges, four years for justices of the peace, and as provided by law for other judges.
Nebraska District 6 years Art. V, Sec. 21 At the next general election following the expiration of three years from the date of appointment of any judge under the provisions of subsection (1) of this section and every six years thereafter as long as such judge retains office, each Justice or Judge of the Supreme Court or district court or such other court or courts as the Legislature shall provide shall have his right to remain in office subject to approval or rejection by the electorate in such manner as the Legislature shall provide
Nevada District 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 5 The district judges shall be elected by the qualified electors of their respective districts, and shall hold office for the term of 6 years…
New Hampshire Superior Until mandatory retirement Art. 73 All judicial officers duly appointed, commissioned and sworn, shall hold their offices during good behavior…No person shall hold the office of judge of any court, or judge of probate, or sheriff of any county, after he has attained the age of seventy years.
New Jersey Superior 7 years, then until mandatory retirement Art. VI, Sec. 6 The Justices of the Supreme Court and the Judges of the Superior Court shall hold their offices for initial terms of 7 years and upon reappointment shall hold their offices during good behavior…No Justice of the new Supreme Court or Judge of the Superior Court shall hold his office after attaining the age of seventy years.
New Mexico District 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 33 Each district judge shall be subject to retention or rejection in like manner at the general election every sixth year.
New York County 10 years Art. VI, Sec. 9 The terms of the judges of the county court shall be ten years from and including the first day of January next after their election.
New York Supreme 14 years Art. VI, Sec. 6 The terms of justices of the supreme court shall be fourteen years from and including the first day of January next after their election.
North Carolina Superior 8 years Art. IV, Sec. 16 Justices of the Supreme Court, Judges of the Court of Appeals, and regular Judges of the Superior Court shall be elected by the qualified voters and shall hold office for terms of eight years and until their successors are elected and qualified.
North Dakota District 6 years Art. VI, Sec. 7 The term of office shall be six years
Ohio Court of Common Pleas 6 years Art. IV, Sec. 6 The judges of the courts of common pleas and the divisions thereof shall be elected by the electors of the counties, districts, or, as may be provided by law, other subdivisions, in which their respective courts are located, for terms of not less than six years…
Oklahoma District 4 years Art. VII, Sec. 8 The terms of District Judges and Associate District Judges shall be for four years…
Oregon Circuit 6 years Art. VII (Amended), Sec. 1 The judges of the supreme and other courts shall be elected by the legal voters of the state or of their respective districts for a term of six years,
Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas 10 years Art. V, Sec. 15 The regular term of office of justices and judges shall be ten years…
Rhode Island Superior During good behavior Art. III, Sec. 7 The people of the State of Rhode Island believe that public officials and employees must adhere to the highest standards of ethical conduct, respect the public trust and the rights of all persons, be open, accountable and responsive, avoid the appearance of impropriety and not use their position for private gain or advantage. Such persons shall hold their positions during good behavior.
South Carolina Circuit 6 years Art. V, Sec. 13 [The Circuit Judge] shall hold office for a term of six years…
South Dakota Circuit 8 years Art. VI, Sec. 7 Circuit court judges shall be elected in a nonpolitical election by the electorate of the circuit each represents for an eight-year term.
Tennessee Chancery, Circuit, Criminal, and Probate Courts 8 years Art. VI, Sec. 4 His term of service shall be eight years.
Texas District 4 years Art. V, Sec. 7 who shall reside in his district during his term of office and hold his office for the period of four (4) years
Utah District 6 years Art. VIII, Sec. 9 Following initial voter approval, each Supreme Court justice every tenth year, and each judge of other courts of record every sixth year, shall be subject to an unopposed retention election at the corresponding general election.
Vermont Superior 6 years Sec. 34 The justices of the Supreme Court and judges of all subordinate courts, except Assistant Judges and Judges of Probate, shall hold office for terms of six years except when holding office under an interim appointment
Virginia Circuit 8 years Art. VI, Sec. 7 The judges of all other courts of record shall be chosen by the vote of a majority of the members elected to each house of the General Assembly for terms of eight years.
Washington Superior 4 years Art. IV, Sec. 5 the term of office of all superior judges in this state shall be for four years
West Virginia Circuit 8 years Art. VIII, Sec. 5 The judge or judges of each circuit court shall be elected by the voters of the circuit for a term of eight years
Wisconsin Circuit 6 years Art. VII, Sec. 7 Circuit judges shall be elected for 6?year terms and shall reside in the circuit from which elected.
Wyoming District 6 years Art. V, Sec. 4 The terms of supreme court justices shall be eight years and the terms of district court judges shall be six years.