Arizona Prop 115: A look at judicial terms in other states

Arizona’s Proposition 115 modifies several provisions of the state’s constitution with respect to judicial selection, qualifications, and terms. In this first look at Prop 115, I’ll look at the changes to terms of office for judges.

Currently, Arizona’s constitution provides for six year terms for the Supreme Court (Art. 6, Sec. 4) and four year terms for the Superior Court, the state’s  general jurisdiction trial court (Art. 6, Sec. 12). Because it is a creation of statute, the terms for the state’s intermediate appellate court, the Court of Appeals, are set by statute as six years. (12-120.01)

Under Prop 115, the two existing constitutional provisions would change to provide eight year terms for both the Supreme Court and Superior Court. In addition, Court of Appeals judges would get an explicit eight year term added into the constitution itself.

Court of last resort/”supreme courts”: Arizona plus 14 other states currently use six year terms for the justices of their state’s top court(s), however 30 states use eight year terms or greater.

Intermediate appellate court/”court of appeals”: There is an almost perfect split among the 40 states that have intermediate appellate courts: 20 states (including Arizona currently) have six year terms or shorter for their intermediate appellate courts, while 20 have eight year terms or greater.

General jurisdiction courts: Only eight states join Arizona in giving their general jurisdiction judges a four year term in office. Precisely half of U.S. states grant their general jurisdiction judges six year terms. Fifteen states give eight year terms or longer.

Court of Last Resort = General Jurisdiction Court: One interesting feature of Prop 115 is the equalization of terms for the justices of the Supreme Court and the judges of the Superior Court at eight years. In twenty-seventy states, the higher court(s) have longer terms, in twenty-two they have the same terms. Maryland stands alone: the justices of their court of last resort serve for 10 years, while their general jurisdiction court judges serve for longer, 15 year terms (Md. Con. Art. IV, Sec. 3, 5 & 5A).

State by state breakdowns below the fold.

 Courts of Last Resort

6 years: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, Oklahoma (Supreme Court), Oklahoma (Court of Criminal Appeals), Oregon, Texas (Supreme Court), Texas (Court of Criminal Appeals), Vermont, Washington

7 years: Maine

8 years: Arkansas, Connecticut, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Wyoming

10 years: Alaska, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, Wisconsin

12 years: California, Delaware, Missouri, Virginia, West Virginia

14 years: New York

Life/to mandatory retirement age: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Rhode Island

Intermediate Appellate Courts

1 year: North Dakota[1]

4 years: Kansas

5 years: New York (Appellate Division)[2]

6 years: Alabama (Court of Civil Appeals), Alabama (Court of Criminal Appeals), Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Washington, Wisconsin

8 years: Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Kentucky, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, Tennessee (Court of Criminal Appeals), Tennessee (Court of Appeals), Virginia

10 years: Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Pennsylvania (Commonwealth Court), Pennsylvania (Superior Court)

12 years: California, Missouri

Life/to mandatory retirement age: Massachusetts, New Jersey

Other: New York (Appellate Term)[3]

States with no Intermediate Appellate Court: Delaware, Maine, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, West Virginia, Wyoming

[1] Judges are assigned to the Temporary Court of Appeals only when the Supreme Court’s docket meets a certain threshold. When the docket is cleared or the cases assigned to the Temporary Court of Appeals are completed, the court is disbanded. See N.D. Code 27-02.1.

[2] Judges of the Appellate Division, Supreme Court are elevated by the Governor from among the trial court judges. They remain in the Appellate Division for 5 years or less if their terms as trial court judges expire. See NY Con. Art. VI, Sec. 4(c)

[3] Judges of the Appellate Term, Supreme Court are trial judges elevated by the chief administrator of the courts. They serve at the pleasure of the chief administrator of the courts and the presiding judge of the Appellate Division or until their elected term expires. Appellate Terms exist in only portions of the state. See NY Con. Art. VI, Sec. 8

General Jurisdiction Court

4 years: Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Texas, Washington

6 years: Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Indiana (Superior and Circuit Courts), Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, Wyoming

7 years: Maine

8 years: Connecticut, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee (Circuit and Chancery Courts), Virginia, West Virginia

10 years: Hawaii, Pennsylvania

12 years: Delaware

14 years: New York

15 years: Maryland

Life/to mandatory retirement age: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey

Court of Last Resort = General Jurisdiction Court: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont