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Forum From the Archives: Why Do We Elect State Court Judges?

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Judge holding gavel next to stack of papers
 (Tetra Images via Getty Images)

When you get to the part of the ballot that asks you to vote for a local judge, have you ever thought, “am I qualified to make this decision?” While federal court trial and appellate judges are appointed and enjoy lifetime tenures, state court judges often have to run for election or re-election, and most voters have scant information on the candidates. In California, you can run to be a judge if you have been a lawyer for ten years, no trial experience necessary. And while we expect judges to be neutral, can they be when they have to run for office and take campaign donations? In our next installment of our “Doing Democracy” series, we look at what it means when judges have to stand for election.


Michael S Kang, professor, Northwestern School of Law. Kang is the co-author of "Free to Judge: The Power of Campaign Money in Judicial Elections." He served on the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States

Judge LaDoris Hazzard Cordell, retired judge, Superior Court of California. She is the author of "Her Honor: My Life on the Bench...What Works, What's Broken and How to Change It"

Teresa Johnson, incoming president, Bar Association of San Francisco. Johnson is a partner at the law firm Arnold & Porter


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