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California Supreme and Appeals Courts
Yes or no? You decide.

Several justices for the state’s Supreme and Appeals Courts are on the ballot. These people relook at cases from local county Superior Courts when the ruling is disputed. Each justice serves a 12-year term.

At the end of that term, however, they don’t face off against a challenger. Instead, they face off against you: Do you think they should get to keep their job? Yes or no?

That’s because these justices are appointed by the governor. If voters choose “no,” the current governor gets to select their replacement. But unlike those on the U.S. Supreme Court, California’s Supreme and Appeals Court justices are rarely in the spotlight.

L.A. Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo, who’s president of the California Judges Association, gave some advice on how to make a decision:

  1. Why do we vote on these justices anyway? Because in the state’s past, Californians didn’t like it when judges and justices had a lifetime appointment nor had to run a political campaign. Our current system is a compromise — the governor appoints a justice and the public gets to vote on his or her reconfirmation.
  2. Find out about their own background. You can read about the justices’ histories on the California courts website — Supreme Court justices are here, Appeals Court justices for L.A. and Santa Barbara counties are here, and Appeals Court justices for Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties are here.
  3. Judges and justices are non-partisan positions. That means none of them has an R or D next to their names. You could trace the party affiliation of the governor who appointed them, but using politics to determine your vote might not be the best idea. Earlier this year, for example, public defenders in San Francisco unsuccessfully challenged four Superior Court judges because they were appointed by a Republican Governor. Those judges are all registered Democrats.
  4. It is very rare that a sitting justice is voted out. The only time a state Supreme Court justice was recalled was in 1986. Chief Justice Rose Bird and Associate Justices Cruz Reynoso and Joseph Grodin were voted out in a contentious election. Conservatives launched a statewide campaign against them, claiming they were “soft on crime” and prevented death sentences from being carried out.
  5. If you find yourself still lacking information on a judge or justice: Judge Bacigalupo recommends erring on the side of caution, which is to retain the justice. He notes that each justice has been through a vetting process to first sit on the bench, and nearly all have served in their position for at least the most recent 12-year term.

Resources:

Read more about the Supreme Court justices here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/2524.htm

Read more about the Appeals Court justices for L.A. and Santa Barbara counties here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/2129.htm

Read more about the Appeals Court justices for Riverside, San Bernardino and Orange counties here: http://www.courts.ca.gov/3104.htm