NC: So how many other states/courts elect their appellate judges in a partisan manner? It’s complicated.

Amid the debate on SB 4 today and the decision to switch North Carolina’s Supreme Court and Court of Appeals from nonpartisan to partisan races, there’s been a good amount of discussion of how many other states and appellate courts have partisan elections. Numbers have ranged widely. The reason for this is fairly straight forward in that for many states it is not a straight forward answer.

There are 8 states with 9 courts in which at one point or another justices of the supreme court/court of last resort show up with a party label somehow. It was 9 states with 10 courts until 2015 when West Virginia ended partisan races for their Supreme Court of Appeals.

  1. Alabama: partisan primaries and partisan general elections.
  2. Illinois: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Illinois Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 60% “yes to retain” vote.
  3. Louisiana: The state uses a “blanket primary” in which all candidates appear with party labels on the primary ballot. The two top votegetters compete in the general election. Thus in the general election, you could have two Republicans vying against each other for the seat, as occurred most recently in 2016 when Republican James “Jimmy” Genovese defeated fellow Republican Marilyn Castle for the 3rd Supreme Court District (Louisiana elects their justices by district, not statewide).
  4. Michigan: candidates for Supreme Court are nominated by political parties but the actual ballot in November is nonpartisan (i.e. no party labels).
  5. New Mexico: very complicated. When a vacancy occurs on the New Mexico Supreme Court, it is initially filled via merit selection (nominating commission sends list of names to governor, governor picks). The newly appointed justice must then run in a partisan primary and partisan general election but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the New Mexico Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election, however to stay in office they need to get a 57% “yes to retain” vote.
  6. Ohio: Partisan primaries, but nonpartisan general elections.
  7. Pennsylvania: partisan primaries, partisan general elections but only for the first election. If a person does get elected to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the next time they are up they are put into a yes/no retention election (50% “yes to retain” to remain in office).
  8. Texas: Everything is bigger in Texas, including their appellate courts. Texas has two “courts of last resort”: the Supreme Court for civil matters and the Court of Criminal Appeals. Both courts use partisan primaries and partisan general elections.

Michigan: bill on House 3rd reading calendar would tie judicial salary increases to state employees; judges haven’t seen increase in 13 years

A plan set for a vote in the Michigan House today would tie judicial salary increases to those given to state employees. As the most recent edition of the Survey of Judicial Salaries indicates, Michigan judges have already had to wait 13 years since their latest salary increase the longest wait in the nation.

Currently judicial salaries are set as a percentage of the salaries of the supreme court. For example a judge of the Court of Appeals makes 92% of a justice of the Supreme Court, a Circuit Judge makes 85%, etc.

Under SB 56 as amended by the House the salaries would equal a percentage of the salary of a Supreme Court justice as of December 31, 2015, plus an amount based on percentage pay increases, excluding lump-sum payments, paid to civil service nonexclusively represented employees classified as executives and administrators on or after January 1, 2016.

If approved by the House, the bill would have to go back to the Senate to concur with the House amendment.

Michigan: Bills to pay for state’s e-court program pass Senate committee; civil fees would go up $5-$25 for next 5 years

A group of bills to pay for and implement Michigan’s e-courts program cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. SB 531, SB 532, and SB 533 together would

  • Create a temporary (5 years) e-filing fee on all civil cases: $25 for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Court of Claims, Circuit Court, and Probate Court; $20/$10/$5 for District Court (depending on type and amount of civil claim)
  • Government entities would not be required to pay the fees. The fee could be waived due to indigence/inability to pay
  • Courts or court funding units already charging an electronic filing fee can continue to do so until December 2016
  • All fees generated to go to state Judicial Electronic Filing Fund under the control of the Supreme Court
  • Allows local courts to apply to the State Court Administrative Office to access and use money from the Fund
  • Allows Supreme Court to select a qualified vendor for the electronic filing system based on competitive bidding
  • Allows local courts to accept automated payments and for the clerk to charge for any fee associated (merchant transaction fee or 3% of the automated payment, whichever was less)

One committee amendment is of note. Amendment 1 of SB 533 would prohibit courts from charging a fee to retrieve and inspect a document on site, including a document that was filed electronically, but would be allowed to charge a fee to copy a document.

All three bills are now pending on the Senate floor.

Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Since April’s update on the subject of mandatory judicial retirement age changes there’s been several developments.

Alabama

While the state does not have a retirement age per se, it does prohibit judges from seeking election or being appointed to fill a vacancy if they are above the age of 70. Efforts to raise this to 72 were approved in the House and appeared to have Senate backing before time ran out in the session. Critics argued the constitutional amendment was specifically designed to allow 68 year old Chief Justice Roy Moore to seek one more term in office.

Louisiana

Despite voters in 2014 rejecting a constitutional amendment repealing the mandatory retirement age for most judges in the state, at least some judges will be able to avoid being forced out at 70. Under HB 350 as signed into law, justices of the peace in office as of August 15, 2006 can continue to run for re-election over the age of 70.

Massachusetts

A plan to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges in that state from 70 to 76 was rejected in committee in late April.

North Carolina

Several efforts to increase the mandatory retirement age for judges met with approval in the House but were not taken up by the Senate prior to adjournment. Those bills could come back up in the 2016 session.

Oregon

Voters will get to decide in 2016 whether or not to repeal the state’s mandatory judicial retirement age. Under SJR 4 as approved by the legislature in late June the constitutional provision allowing the legislature to set a retirement age would be stricken.

Virginia

Virginia appellate judges as of today (July 1), will see their mandatory judicial retirement age increase from 70 to 73 under a bill signed into law this spring. However, only those trial judges elected or appointed after July 1, 2015 would get the increase to 73; all other trial judges remain at the mandatory retirement age of 70. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe had asked the legislature to amend the bill (HB 1984) to apply the increase to all judges, and the state’s Senate was willing to do so, however the House insisted on the split treatment.

Continue reading Changes to mandatory judicial retirement ages: Virginia plan now law; Oregon voters will decide in November 2016 on repeal; Massachusetts proposal rejected

Michigan, Oregon, and Nevada legislatures look at 3 different approaches to judicial salaries: tie to CPI, tie to state employees, binding commission

Three states are actively debating the way in which to pay for, and increase, judicial salaries in their respective states. Each takes a somewhat different approach in this arena.

Michigan: Tie increases to state employees’ increases

SB 56, approved March 26 on a 33-3 vote, would link judicial salaries to those of state employees. Currently, judges of the Court of Appeals, Circuit Court, Probate Court, and District Court make a certain percentage of the salary of a Supreme Court justice. Court of Appeals = 92%; Circuit = 85%; Probate = 85%; District = 84%

SB 56 keeps the practice of using a percent of the Supreme Court and adds to it an amount based on percentage pay increases, excluding lump-sum payments, paid to civil service nonexclusively represented employees (NEREs) classified as executives and administrators on or after January 1, 2016. According to an analysis done by the Michigan Legislature that increase would be anywhere from 0-3% but has in the past averaged 2%.

Oregon: Tie to CPI

SB 446, set for a hearing tomorrow (April 8) is filed at the request of the state’s Chief Justice and the Oregon Circuit Court Judges Association. The plan calls for a review every before July 1 every year by the Chief Justice of the Portland-Salem, OR-WA Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers for All Items. If there was an increase in the previous calendar year, the Chief Justice would adjust the salaries for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Circuit courts accordingly effective July 1 starting July 1, 2016. The CPI data as of February 2015 can be found here and indicates increases from 2010-2014 of 1.3-2.9% with an average of 2.3%

Nevada: Create binding joint compensation commission

Last year Arkansas adopted a binding salary commission to set salaries for state officials including judges that could not be overridden by the state’s legislature. Nevada is set to debate today (April 7) the creation of a very similar commission for that state in the form of AJR 10. The constitutional amendment would set up a Citizens’ Commission on Salaries for Certain Elected Officers that would take over from the (advisory) Commission to Review the Compensation of Constitutional Officers, Legislators, Supreme Court Justices, Judges of the Court of Appeals, District Judges and Elected County Officers.

The new Citizens’ Commission, using language almost identical to the Arkansas bill from last year, would be made up of

  • Two members chosen by the Assembly Speaker
  • Two members chosen by the Senate Majority Leader
  • Two members chosen by the Governor
  • One member chosen by the Chief Justice

Notable here is the breakdown with legislative leaders picking a 4/7 majority of the new Citizens’ Commission The current advisory Commission to Review gives only 2/9 to the legislative leaders, another 2/9 to the legislative minority party leaders, 2/9 to the Chief Justice, and 3/9 to the Governor.

The new Citizens’ Commission would be prohibited from diminishing the salaries of judges and others while in office and be limited in increasing salaries more than 15% per report (except for the first report where the 15% ceiling would be waived). In Arkansas, the increases for judges were about 11% in that state’s first report.

Finally, and critically, there would be no legislative override of the Citizens’ Commission by the legislature.

The Legislature shall provide by law for setting apart from each year’s revenues a sufficient amount of money to pay such salaries [set by the Citizens’ Commission].

Aside from Arkansas, no other state has a comparable provision. 7 states allow for legislative override although some set the threshold as 2/3rds (Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, New York, Oklahoma) while an 8th (Washington) allows for a voter referendum to override.

8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan

With the expecting signing this week of a bill to transition West Virginia judicial races from partisan to nonpartisan, the number of states with partisan judicial races for their courts of last resort (usually called supreme court) will decrease down to 8. A look at those 8 and the efforts to move to nonpartisan races is below. Please note that in some cases alternative proposals, such as a move to merit/commission selection, have also been introduced and drawn much of the legislative focus and interest. This looks exclusively at the proposals to keep judicial elections but make them nonpartisan.

Continue reading 8 states continue to have partisan elections for their top courts; a look at legislative efforts to move to nonpartisan