OC Political

A right-of-center blog covering local, statewide, and national politics

A Word (or Two) about Judges on the Ballot

Posted by Craig P Alexander on October 14, 2022

Dear Friends,  

Almost every election I am asked about the judges on the ballot. Often I do not have a recommendation one way or the other. On this ballot you are going to find a long list of justices of the courts you are being asked to either approve with a yes vote or disapprove with a no vote. Let me give you some background about the elections for the California judicial system that might also help understand the old axiom “Elections have consequences.”  

California’s State Judicial System  

In California’s state judicial system (not Federal Court where the judges have lifetime appointments) there are basically three levels of judges. The first level is the Superior Court sometimes known as a “trial judge”. This is the judge you might meet if you have to file a lawsuit or “go to court” for any reason. You would be in a courtroom with only one judge who makes all of the decisions (or oversees the jury who makes many decisions at a trial). The other two categories of judges are actually “justices” who sit on the California Supreme Court or an intermediate Court of Appeals.  

Superior Court Judicial Elections

Superior Court judges are either elected to a six year term or appointed by the Governor and then stand for election at the next primary election (normally in June). An attorney who wishes to challenge a judge or run for an open seat (due to a judge passing away or who has retired) will become a candidate for that position. Sometimes there are several candidates for that one seat. If there are more than two candidates running and no one candidate gets 50% plus one vote, the top two vote getters have a run off election in November’s general election. This year in June in Orange County there were several Superior Court elections and only one of them resulted in a run off election. In that election attorney Peggy Huang is one of the top two vote getters and I highly recommend you vote for Peggy (https://www.peggyhuang.com/).   

California Supreme Court and Court of Appeal Retention “Elections”

When there is an opening on a Court of Appeal or the California Supreme Court, the sitting Governor appoints a person (often a Superior Court judge or a law school professor) and he or she is confirmed by the California Commission on Judicial Appointments. The justice then will stand for a “retention” election at the next general election (November of that year) and all justices stand for a “retention” election every twelve years. At this election the voters are asked if they wish to retain a justice (by voting yes) or to not retain a justice (by voting no). There is no opposition candidate running for that appeals court seat. Most often these justices are “retained” by yes votes of greater than 90% or even 95% of the votes cast. Most often if you ask a voter why they voted yes, they would have no idea why or what the justices’ rulings have been. It is rare that a justice of the Supreme Court or Court of Appeals is ousted in this fashion. They normally retire or die in office. But it has happened before.

In 1986 Governor George Deukmejian and many, many business interests and conservative elected officials grew tired of what is often called the Rose Bird Court (named for then Chief Justice Rose Bird). This court was famous for issuing what many people believe were poorly reasoned and even emotional decisions that hurt individual liberties and business interests. The governor and the others organized (and raised funds for) a campaign to convince voters to vote “no” to oust several of the most liberal justices on the Supreme Court. They were successful and all of the three justices involved were ousted at the November 1986 general election.  What happened after that? Governor Deukmejian then appointed new justices including then new Chief Justice Malcom Lewis who served until 1996 when he retired.    

Today’s Situation 

Fast forward to today, there is no campaign to oust any sitting Supreme Court or Court of Appeal justice. Therefore it is highly unlikely that by just word of mouth enough No votes would occur to oust any sitting justice today. But even if that did happen, who would appoint a new set of justices to the Supreme Court and Courts of Appeal? Governor Gavin Newsom! The last thing I would want to do is allow Gavin Newsom to have the opportunity to reshape the California Courts so dramatically and so much more to the left.   

So what is the answer to make changes in the California judicial system – better Governors and legislators being elected! Thus to the point that elections have consequences! Do you like the current United States Supreme Court after President Trump and the then Republican U.S. Senate appointed and confirmed three much more conservative justices? Well that was the result of many, many years of conservatives electing U.S. Senators and a President that in turn appointed conservative justices.    Can that happen in California? Yes but it is going to take many years to reverse the course of our state’s electoral politics. Basically re-educating the average voter why voting “liberal” is not going to get you a good result including a better state judicial system (unless you are a committed progressive liberal, then you are quite happy with the current state of affairs in California and welcome conservatives to move to Texas and Florida).   

There is no “quick fix” to the problem of years of voters voting into office progressive and aggressive politicians like Gavin Newsom. And I firmly believe it is the voters, not the elected politicians, who are most at fault for the outcomes of electing these types of people – high taxes, regulations, high government fees, employers fleeing the state, etc., etc. The power is in the voters hands to make this change and it is our responsibility as conservatives to educate them on why that is a better choice.       


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: