If you received your mail-in ballot recently you’ll notice there are a lot of choices to make! Every election and race matters — this year there are over hundreds of judicial races on the ballot across the nation. With so few citizens understanding the court system unless hauled into one, we’re breaking down one aspect of the court system — Circuit Court Judges.
- State vs. Federal Court System
First, note that the U.S. judicial system has a separate state and federal court system.
The President appoints federal judges and they are then confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Senators can block judicial appointments. Federal judges are appointed for life.
As of today, President Trump has appointed more judicial candidates than President Obama, largely because the Senate has been controlled by Republicans each time, majority of President Obama’s judicial candidates were blocked.
- State Court Systems
Each state structures its judicial/court system differently. For example, some states judges are appointed for life; by merit or nominating committee, ballot, or mixture. Visit your state courts’ website to learn more.
Fun fact: What other states call their Circuit Court, New York calls the Supreme Court, and its supreme court is known as the Court of Appeals.
- Citizen’s Rights
Citizens often feel like they do not have a place in the judicial system unless they are brought into court. However, judicial decisions have impacted how we receive health insurance, who we marry, who is allowed in this country and the rights they receive.
Important cases has decided whether corporations should give maternity leave, whether to protect employees from unsafe working conditions and how much money could corporations give in an election.
In criminal cases, decisions on what would warrant a lawful search of your person or property and when can you invoke self-defense all have come down to a court case. The reason police have to read your rights came from a case known as Arizona vs. Miranda — we all know today thanks to Law & Order as Miranda Rights.
Basically, the courts ‘silently’ rule on every facet of our lives.
However, citizens can make an impact on the judicial system, when it comes to the federal level paying attention to elections not only of the President but the U.S. Senate as well.
On the state level, its a lot harder. You’ll first have to know how your state court system is organized.
- States Vary How They Select Judges
California appoints judges and then are subject to retention or vacancy elections. New York merit selection for appellate and partisan for lower courts.
Florida by nominating commission then retention or vacancy nonpartisan elections. Alabama all judges are selected by partisan elections.
Virgina appointed by the state House and Senate. New Hampshire all judges are appointed by the Governor.
However, for states that elect there judges when there is a vacancy a Governor or legislature can appoint a judge until the next election cycle.
- What does a Circuit Court Judge do?
Circuit Court Judges preside over appeals from lower level courts, often known as county courts. Felony and capital crimes, cases involving $15,000 or more, real estate property, death row cases, and major lawsuits to name a few. Some also preside over matrimonial actions, juvenile dependency, and other family-related cases.
- Why Are Judges So Important?
The judicial system is considered a “long game” approach to shaping what is legal and/or the moral compass of the state or country well after a Governor or President or any other elected leaders leave office.
Judges interpret laws and make decisions on cases that can shape generations and often have lifetime impacts.
- How Do You Select the Right Judge?
Determine first what are the issues you care about! Do you care about pre-trial diversion programs? Reducing the prision population? Corporations being held more accountable? Fair division of marital property?
Then determine if (1) have they been a judge before, if so, check their record, (2) do they have trial experience, (3) what do they consider judicial fairness in ruling? Ask your local law associations for help.
As always we recommend you do your research, seek advice and go vote! Visit your local elections website for more information.