Judge Holding DocumentsJudges play a critical role in the criminal justice system, and it’s important to understand how our judges got to where they are. Here is a quick look at how judges are selected in the state of California:

Supreme Court and Appellate Judges

There are seven justices on the California Supreme Court and more than 100 judges in California’s Courts of Appeal. All judges and justices appointed to the Supreme Court or appellate courts must have ten years of experience as a law practitioner or judge.

These judges and justices are selected in the same manner:

  • The governor submits a candidate’s name to the Commission on Judicial Nominees Evaluation of the State Bar of California. Also known as the “Jenny Commission,” this committee thoroughly investigates any prospective candidates. The commission prepares a confidential evaluation of the candidate, which is given back to the governor. (The governor is not bound by these recommendations, but he is accountable to the Commission on Judicial Appointments.)
  • The governor officially nominates the candidate. At this point, the candidate is evaluated by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, which has three members: the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court, the California Attorney General, and the Senior Presiding Justice of the Court of Appeal of the district in question. (If the appointee is for the Supreme Court, the third member of the commission is the state’s senior presiding justice of the Courts of Appeal.)
  • The appointment is confirmed or vetoed. The Commission on Judicial Appointments will hold at least one public hearing to review the appointee’s qualifications, after which the commission will confirm or veto the appointment.

After being appointed, appellate judges must stand for retention in the next gubernatorial election after their appointment. For example, say a judge is appointed to the Court of Appeals in 2015. If the next gubernatorial election is in 2016, the judge’s name will be up for a “yes/no” vote on whether or not he or she should be retained. After this retention vote, the judge will serve a full 12-year term.

Trial Judges

There are 58 trial courts in the state of California (one for every county), where judges hear everything from personal injury lawsuits to murder cases. There are more than 1,700 superior court judges, each of whom serve six-year terms. These judges are elected by county voters on a nonpartisan ballot during a general election. After being initially voted into judgeship, the judge will serve for six years before facing reelection in a general election.

Each superior court has a “chief judge,” who is selected by peer vote of the court’s members. Like judges for the California Supreme Court and appellate courts, trial judges must have ten years’ experience as a law practitioner or judge.