How Are Judges Elected?

If you are wondering how judges in the United States get to where they are, we must first understand that there are two different types of judges that have jurisdiction on the different laws of the land.

The first type of judge is the federal judge, who oversees matters related to federal laws, cases between the different states, and constitutional rights. A federal judge could be either be an Article I judge or an Article III judge. What is the difference between the two?

While the former (Article I) is appointed by congress and sits in the office for ten years (after which he could either be reappointed or retire), the latter (Article III) is appointed by the president and could sit on the bench for life. Also, while Article I judges are there for the sole purpose of judging cases related to the laws passed by congress, Article III judges can hear any type of federal case. An Article I judge could either work in the bankruptcy courts, military courts, and tax courts.

A federal judge can work in either a federal trial court, appeals court or Supreme Court, just like state judges. This brings us to the next point about state judges. How are they selected? State judges are selected in many different ways, including:

Appointment by the state’s governor or legislative body,
Merit selection by a legislative committee,
Partisan elections,
Non-partisan elections

Because each state has different laws when it comes to electing or selecting judges, you can be sure that while one state elects its judges, there is another state where the governor or the legislature decides on who wears the judge’s robe.

In terms of tenure, judges who are chosen based on merit by a legislative committee vary depending on the state, however, whether or not a judge stays is decided on by so-called retention elections.

Judges that are elected in partisan elections have terms that are co-terminus with elected officials. On the other hand, judges that are elected in non-partisan elections usually have terms of between six to ten years.

State judges could work in county courts, district courts, and the state supreme court. In the state of Texas, county courts are elected while district courts are appointed by the governor and senate. The supreme court judge, meanwhile, is appointed by the governor. Other states follow more or less the same pattern.

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