Your State-by-State Guide to Every State Supreme Court

Bolts breaks down the structure, selection procedures, and functions of each state’s highest court.
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August 22, 2023
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From Washington Courts/Facebook

Every state and territory has its own supreme court and every supreme court has tremendous power over legal cases and public policy within its borders—but the resemblances end there. No two courts are exactly the same. Each has its rules and idiosyncrasies, each comes with different procedures for how someone becomes and stays a judge, and each has a distinct set of roles and functions. 

For anyone hoping to navigate this maze, these differences can quickly become overwhelming. Does this court have anything to do with setting bail schedules? Is it involved in certifying election results? Is anyone on its bench old enough they’ll soon have to retire? Will a vacancy spark a special election? 

With this page, Bolts lays out the answers to these questions, and a great many more, for every single high court in all 50 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico. 

For each of these 54 courts (Oklahoma and Texas each have two high courts), Bolts fleshes out its structure, how judges make it on and get to stay on it, the scope of its judicial powers, and its other critical rulemaking and policymaking roles.  

If you want to take a step back and are wondering why these courts even matter, read our accompanying article that will introduce you to these powerful institutions and answers your big-picture questions.

This research was conducted by Quinn Yeargain, an assistant professor of law at Widener University. Daniel Nichanian contributed to the preparation of this page.

Explore the information by clicking on the state that interests you below, or by comparing how the same category plays out across various states.

Now let’s jump in.

Alabama Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtAlabama’s supreme court has nine members.

This size is set in state law.
Judicial electionsAlabama holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan statusJustices may be affiliated to a political party as elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all nine court members are Republican as well as white, even as more than a quarter of Alabama’s population is Black.


2. The paths to sitting on this court

How a justice joins the courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat is up, whether or not there is an incumbent, any qualified candidate can run in a partisan race featuring party primaries.

Judges may also be appointed to the court by a governor if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts six years. If a justice is appointed unto the court, though, their first term is shorter.

At the end of a term, a justice can seek a new term in a partisan election. If they decide to retire at that point, there is an open election.
When there’s a vacancyIf a judge leaves the court before the end of their term, the governor names a replacement. There is no constraint on the governor’s choice, which is not subject to legislative confirmation.

That appointee serves until the next even-year election cycle occurring at least two years after their appointment, after which a new election is held for the seat.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of any state bar for at least ten years; they must also be a member of the Alabama bar at the time of their appointment.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.


3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsThere are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve. There is a mandatory retirement age barring justices from seeking re-election once they turn 70; however, they’re allowed to serve the remainder of their term.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways: First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the Alabama Court of the Judiciary may decide on discipline, including removal. (This body is composed of judges, members of the state bar, and people appointed by the governor and lieutenant governor.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.


4. The court’s judicial powers


The court’s appellate jurisdiction
This is the highest court in Alabama and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Court of Civil Appeals and Court of Criminal Appeals. It also reviews the decisions of the Alabama Public Service Commission.
Other paths to hearing a caseSome trial court decisions, including cases where the amount in controversy exceeds $50,000, are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.


5. The court’s policymaking and regulatory powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the court system, which includes the ability to appoint court administrators to manage day-to-day affairs, assign temporary judges, and alter trial court dockets.
Making rules for state courtsThe court has the power to design rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. Rules can be modified by the legislature.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and arrests are handled in Alabama. This includes setting bail schedules. 

In addition, the chief justice sits on Alabama’s commission that makes sentencing recommendations to the legislature, and drafts sentencing guidelines for trial courts.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesThe court can issue advisory opinions when requested by the governor or either chamber of the legislature. 

When prompted by other state officials the court is also tasked with determining whether the governor is of unsound mind and cannot exercise the duties of their office. 


Alaska Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtThe supreme court has five members.

The state constitution requires at least three members, and allows the legislature to increase the number “upon the request of the supreme court.”
Judicial electionsAlaska holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four of the five sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor. This is an imperfect proxy since Alaska governors are comparatively constrained in who they choose.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment, which is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

But the governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of names prepared by a nominating commission, known as the Alaska Judicial Council, that includes the chief justice and others chosen by the governor and the state bar.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term after their appointment is always shorter, though.

After they complete a term, a justice faces a retention race; they need to receive a majority of the vote to be retained. Retention races take place in November. (Note: No supreme court justice has lost retention since 1962.)
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a replacement that serves until the next election cycle occurring at least three years after their appointment. At that point, a judge can run for retention for the first time; if they prevail, they get to serve a ten-year term before further elections.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and state law specifies they must have engaged in the “active practice of law” for at least eight years preceding their appointment. They must also be an Alaska resident for at least five years.
The chief justice The chief justice is selected by a majority of the court to serve a three-year term; whomever is selected cannot serve consecutive terms.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsA judge faces mandatory retirement when they reach at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways.

First, the legislature may impeach and remove them; in an unusual arrangement, it is the Senate that impeaches, and the House that holds a trial. Both chambers need two-third majorities.

Second, the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct may make recommendations about discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. The commission is composed of a mix of gubernatorial and judicial appointees.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Alaska and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThis supreme court reviews the decisions of the Alaska Court of Appeals on criminal cases. 

Non-criminal cases are directly appealed to the supreme court because the Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction to hear them. 

The court also reviews decisions made by the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission and the Military Appeals Commission.
Unusual paths for a case to reach this courtN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the state’s courts, which includes the ability to appoint court administrators to manage operations, and temporarily reassign judges to different courts.
Making rules for courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The rules it sets can be modified by the legislature on a two-thirds vote.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and arrests are handled in Alaska. This includes setting some guidelines for sentencing, but detailed sentencing rules and presumptive sentencing guidelines are the province of the legislature. It does not set bail schedules.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
RedistrictingThe chief justice of the court appoints one of the of five members of the state’s Legislative Redistricting Board.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.



Arizona Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The state constitution requires at least five members but allows a law to set the exact number. Republicans raised the number from five to seven in 2016. 
Judicial electionsArizona holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan statusJustices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor. On paper, the governor faces some constraints but the state’s most recent GOP governor, Doug Ducey, succeeded in shifting the court to the right and selected Republicans to join the court.


2. The paths to sitting on this court

How a justice joins the courtAll justices first make it on the court through a gubernatorial appointment, which is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

The governor must select a justice from a slate of at least three names prepared by a nomination commission, called the Commission on Appellate Court Appointments. This body is composed of the chief justice and 15 other people who are all selected by the governor; but the governor’s choices face some constraints, and the appointees are either vetted by the state bar or confirmed by the Senate.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts six years. A justice’s initial term after their appointment is shorter, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by running in a retention election. They need to receive a simple majority of the vote to stay on the court. Retention elections are held in November. (No supreme court justice has ever lost a retention election as of 2023.)
When there’s a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a replacement. The new justice serves until the next even-year election cycle occurring at least two years after their appointment, at which point they can seek retention for the first time.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA justice has to be a member of the state bar, a resident of Arizona for at least ten years preceding their appointment, and under 65 years of age at the time that their name is submitted to the governor.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court’s members to serve a five-year term; a vice chief justice is also selected the same way.


3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsArizona mandates retirement at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is composed of a mix of judges and appointees of the state bar and governor.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.


4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Arizona and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThis court reviews the decisions of the Arizona Court of Appeals. 
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court sentences of death in criminal cases are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Also, disputes among counties over boundaries, surveys, and claims by one county against another, are considered by the supreme court without being considered by any lower court.


5. The court’s policymaking and regulatory powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as supervising the administration of the state’s courts, which includes the ability to temporarily reassign judges to different courts. The court as a whole also appoints court administrators to manage day-to-day operations.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. Statutes approved by the legislature setting rules of court can be superseded by rules adopted by the supreme court.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and arrests are handled in Arizona, from records sealing procedures to jury questionnaires. The court does not set bail schedules, nor the details of sentencing guidelines. 

For instance, the court in 2021 updated the rules to ban peremptory challenges in jury selection; early data suggests the reform increased the diversity of juries.
Election certificationWhen the secretary of state canvasses and certifies the results of elections, this is done in the presence of the governor and chief justice.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Arkansas Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

This size is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsArkansas holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan statusJustices are not formally affiliated to political parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, though, most sitting justices have ties to the GOP. They include a former chair of the state Republican Party, a former GOP lawmaker, and two judges who touted their conservative credentials.

After conservatives failed to oust two incumbents with moderate reputations in 2022, one of them passed away in 2023 and Republican Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders appointed his replacement.


2. The paths to sitting on this court

How a justice joins the courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide, nonpartisan election. Whenever a seat is up, whether or not there is an incumbent, all candidates get to run in the state’s primary election; if no one receives a majority there is a runoff in November.

A justice may also be on the court due to a short-lived appointment (see below).
When a term endsA full term on this court is eight years. 

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by running for re-election in a nonpartisan election. If the justice retires at that point, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there’s a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a replacement; the choice is not subject to confirmation. The appointee then gets to serve until an election is held in the next even-numbered year; but in a very unusual arrangement, the appointee is not eligible to run for a full term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least eight years preceding their service.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.


3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsThere is no mandatory retirement age or term limit.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission may recommend discipline, including removal. Normally, it is the full supreme court that examines the matter; but if the judge facing discipline is a supreme court justice, then the supreme court is disqualified; instead, the governor appoints a special panel to hear the matter.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.


4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Arkansas and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court hears appeals of decisions by the Arkansas Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court. It may also directly take up an appeal of a trial court decision.
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court decisions that involve the interpretation of the state constitution, death sentences, and elections and election procedures are appealed directly to the supreme court, skipping the court of appeals. 

Also, legal challenges to ballot initiatives start at the supreme court.


5. The court’s policymaking and regulatory powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the state’s courts, which includes the ability to appoint court administrators to handle day-to-day affairs and temporarily reassign judges to different courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The legislature may modify or repeal them by a two-third vote.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and arrests are handled in Arkansas, from arrest procedures to appointment of counsel. These do not include bail schedules, nor the details of sentencing guidelines, which are the province of the Arkansas Sentencing Commission.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesThe supreme court can review whether voter-initiated constitutional amendments and statutes should make it onto the ballot, and must at least consider any case in which there is a dispute around an initiative. This role has come to a head lately due to battles between state groups and the secretary of state’s office over ballot petitions.
RedistrictingJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Pardons and paroleThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

California Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtThe court has seven members

This number is set by the constitution.
Judicial electionsCalifornia holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan statusJustices are not formally affiliated to political parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one of the sitting justices were chosen by a Democratic governor. The court shifted to having a majority of Democratic-appointed justices in early 2019 for the first time since 1987.


2. The paths to sitting on this court

How a justice joins the courtAll justices first join the court through a nomination by the governor. 

Governors may select whomever they please, but their nominee must then be confirmed by the state’s Commission on Judicial Appointments, a three-member body that includes the state’s chief justice, its attorney general, and the longest-serving presiding justice on any of the state’s court of appeal.
When a term endsEach seat on the supreme court is on a 12-year cycle. 

At the end of their term, a justice who chooses to seek a new term faces voters in a retention election; they must clear a majority threshold to be retained. Retention races happen in November.

Unlike in other states, California has some history of justices losing retention elections: Three justices were ousted in one cycle in 1986.
When there’s a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a new justice, who faces voters in a retention election in the next even-year election cycle. Surviving that initial vote only entitles the justice to serve the remainder of the interrupted term. (California has a recent history of governors waiting a long time before selecting someone to fill a vacancy.) 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least ten years preceding their service.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. 


3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsCalifornia has no mandatory retirement age, nor a term limit.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the Assembly may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance hears complaints about judges and can order discipline, including removal. (This is a body whose members are a mix of judicial, gubernatorial, and legislative appointees.) When the commission makes decisions about supreme court justices, its decisions are reviewed by a tribunal of 7 randomly selected appellate court judges.
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.


4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in California and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution.
How most cases reach this courtThe court reviews the decisions of the California Courts of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court. The court also reviews some trial court decisions (see below).
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court sentences of death in criminal cases are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.


5. The court’s policymaking and regulatory powers

Administering the judicial systemThe body that supervises the administration of the state’s court system is, once again, the judicial council. The council appoints the state court system’s administrative director to manage day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe body that does is the state’s Judicial Council, which is the policy-making body for the state court system; it includes the chief justice and one other justice, plus lower-court judges. The council has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureHere again, the relevant body is the judicial above, which sets the state’s criminal rules. This includes the authority to set bail schedules for some types of charges.

Note that the supreme court retains the ability to hear regular challenges to criminal procedures and laws; in 2021, the court held that California’s bail rules are unconstitutional, for instance.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleThe governor cannot pardon or commute the sentence of someone who has been convicted of a felony two times without the recommendation of the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesWhen asked by the Commission on the Governorship, the supreme court determines if the governor is unable to exercise their role and resolves questions relating to gubernatorial succession.


Colorado Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The state constitution requires that the supreme court consist of “not less than seven justices,” but allows the legislature to set the exact number.
Judicial electionsColorado holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Democratic governor. This is an imperfect proxy since Colorado governors are comparatively constrained in who they choose.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it onto the court through an appointment by the governor. The appointment is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

The governor selects a nominee from a list of names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Supreme Court Nominating Commission. This body includes the chief justice and 17 other members named by some combination of the governor, chief justice, and attorney general. (The constitution specifies that no more than 9 of the members can be of the same political party.)
When a term endsA full term on the court is 10 years. A judge’s initial term after their appointment is always shorter, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by facing voters in a retention election. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained. 

No supreme court justice has lost a retention election in Colorado history, but some district court judges have.
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a new justice; that justice serves for two years and then must run for retention at the next even-year election cycle to stay on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar for at least 5 years, a registered voter in Colorado, and under 72 years old.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected through a majority vote of the full court. The constitution specifies that the chief serves “at the pleasure” of the court and does not serve for a set term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsColorado justices must retire at age 72. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline may recommend their discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is made of a mix of judicial and gubernatorial appointees.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Colorado and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe court reviews decisions made by the Colorado Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial courts decisions that declare a statute unconstitutional are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Judicial review of redistricting maps after they are drawn starts at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises all lower courts, which includes appointing a court administrator to handle the court system’s day-to-day affairs. 
In addition, the chief justice has specific power over the court’s bureaucracy, including the authority to the chief judge of the court of appeals and the state’s judicial districts, to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint a member of the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission.
Making rules for state courtsThe court has the authority to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis supreme court writes the Colorado Rules of Criminal Procedure, based on the recommendations of a panel of attorneys and judges named the Criminal Procedure Committee. Broadly speaking, the supreme court is not involved in setting bail schedules or fleshing out sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
RedistrictingColorado conducts its redistricting through independent commissions, and the chief justice designates a panel of retired supreme or appellate court judges to review applicants to the redistricting commissions. 

In addition, the full court must approve the redistricting plans before they become effective; the scope of this review is limited to several factors, namely determining whether the maps comply with federal law, preserve communities of interest, and create compact and competitive districts.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court has the power to issue advisory opinions when requested by the governor, the state Senate, or the state House. This is not a frequent occurrence; still, as an example, the court issued advisory opinions in 2020 when the legislature asked whether the legislature’s meeting schedule during the pandemic was constitutional.

If the legislature requests it by a two-third vote, the court determines if the governor or lieutenant governor are unable to fulfill their role.


Connecticut Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsConnecticut never holds supreme court elections.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to political parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Democratic governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nominee must be confirmed by the state Senate and state House. 

In addition, the governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Selection Commission. This is a body of 12 members, half of which is chosen by the governor and the other half is chosen by legislative leaders.
When a term endsJustices serve eight-year terms. At the end of their term, a justice may seek to be reappointed to their seat. 

The state’s Judicial Selection Commission evaluates incumbents seeking another term and recommends to the governor whether they should be reappointed. State law says that the “presumption” is “that each incumbent judge who seeks reappointment to the same court qualifies for retention,” but the commission is not obligated to nominate incumbent judges. If it does, the governor reappoints the justice; if it does not, its decision is final and the process reverts to filling any vacancy.
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a new justice who begins an eight-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar and under the age of 70.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may remove them by a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s Judicial Review Council may recommend their discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The council is a body made up of five members appointed by the governor with legislative and judicial input.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Connecticut and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThis court reviews the decisions of the Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseCertain criminal cases that could involve very long prison sentences are appealed directly to the supreme court; the same is true when the state’s trial court, known as the Superior Court, invalidates a law or the adoption of a constitutional amendment. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the state’s judicial branch. This includes the authority to appoint a chief court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs and to issue emergency orders.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the authority to propose rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The legislature can disapprove of the rules by majority vote.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court shapes the procedures of how criminal arrests and cases are handled in Connecticut as part of writing the Rules for the Superior Court. It sets criteria for how bail is determined.

Separately, the chief justice sits on the Connecticut Sentencing Commission, a body that conducts research into criminal justice policies but does not set sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Delaware Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members.

The number is set in the state constitution.
DelawareDelaware never holds supreme court elections.
Partisan status The constitution mandates that three of the justices belong to one major political party, and the other two belong to “the other major political party.”

The state agreed in early 2023 to no longer enforce the mandate that judges be part of a major political party, but the mandate that no party have more than three justices on the court remains.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, three justices are Democrats and two are Republicans. 

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it onto the court through a governor’s nomination. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Senate. 

The governor’s office decades ago created a judicial nominating commission by executive order, but governors are not obligated to follow its recommendations. 
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts 12 years.

At the end of that term, a governor can choose to reappoint the justice, which must be confirmed to a new term by the state Senate. The governor may also choose a new justice.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a replacement who gets to serve a full 12-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceThe constitution stipulates only that justices must be state citizens and “learned in the law.” 

In addition, the constitution mandates that three of the justices belong to one major political party, and the other two belong to the other major political party, an unusual requirement that has been challenged in court
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-thirds majorities.

Second, the state’s Court on the Judiciary hears complaints about judges and can order discipline, including removal, on a two-thirds vote. (This is a body made up of the full supreme court, and five other judges who sit on other state courts.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Delaware and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThere is no appellate court in Delaware. As such, the supreme court reviews decisions made by the state’s main trial court (known as the superior court), its family court, and its Court of Chancery (which functions as a specialized business court).
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the state’s court system, is the “administrative head of all the courts in the state,” which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts and appoint the state court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and arrests are handled in Delaware, from grand juries to procedures to introduce evidence. It does not set bail schedules, though.

The chief justice appoints four of the members of the Sentencing Accountability Commission, which drafts sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe chief justice sits on a board that can determine when the governor is suffering from a physical or mental disability that precludes them from acting as governor.

Also, the supreme court can issue advisory opinions when requested by the governor, or when requested by either chamber of the legislature by a majority vote.

Florida Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The number is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsFlorida holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to political parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor. Although governors in Florida face constraints when selecting a judge, Republican Governor Ron DeSantis has strategized to make the supreme court more reliably conservative.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment. This appointment is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

The governor must choose from a list of three to six candidates prepared by the state’s Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission. 

All nine members of this commission are selected by the governor, though four must come from within a list prepared by the state bar. As a result, the process has become very friendly to the governor’s preferences. Importantly, a governor’s selections to this commission do not expire at the end of that governor’s term, which means that a new governor may be boxed in by their predecessor’s selections.
When a term endsA full term lasts six years. A justice’s first term after their appointment is always shorter, though.

At the end of their term, justices can face voters in a retention race. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained. Retention races take place in November. (No Florida judge has ever lost a retention election.)
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a replacement that serves until the next even-year election cycle occuring at least a year after their appointment. (If the justice survives, they get to serve a full six-year term.)
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for ten years.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court’s justices. The chief serves a two-year term, beginning on July 1 of even-numbered years.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-third majorities.

Second, the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point a panel of judges examines the matter. (The commission is a mix of judges, attorneys selected by the bar, and gubernatorial appointees.) If the official under scrutiny is a lower-court judge, the matter is reviewed by the supreme court; but if the official under scrutiny is a supreme court justice, then the seven most senior chief judges of the state’s circuit courts decide on punishment.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Florida and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Florida District Courts of Appeal. It may also agree to directly take up trial court decisions before they have been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

The supreme court also reviews decisions made by the state’s Public Service Commission.
Other paths to hearing a caseDeath sentences by a trial court are appealed directly to the supreme court.

Also, the supreme court reviews any ballot initiative without waiting for a lower court (see below for more information). 

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the state’s judicial system. This includes the ability to issue procedural orders for the court, temporarily reassign judges to different courts, issue emergency orders, as well as regulate the hiring and compensation of judicial branch employees.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the authority to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal arrests and cases are handled in Florida, from how a court appoints legal counsel to the continuing education credits attorney must obtain. It does not set bail schedules.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesThe supreme court needs to approve a ballot initiative’s presence on the ballot, ascertaining certain factors such as whether it meets the requirement that an amendment pertains to a single subject.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingAfter each decennial census, if the legislature fails to pass state legislative maps in its regular session and again in a special apportionment session, the supreme court would be tasked with drawing the maps. (As in most states, the supreme court may also end up reviewing congressional maps too if those are subject to lawsuits, as part of normal judicial review.)
Other noteworthy rolesThe court can issue advisory opinions when requested by the governor or attorney general. It can also make recommendations to the legislature about increasing or decreasing the number of judges on a lower court.


Georgia Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has nine members.

The constitution limits the court to “not more than nine Justices,” but the legislature can set the number lower than that. The court was expanded from seven to nine members by the legislature in 2016.
Judicial electionsGeorgia holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one of the sitting justices has first made it onto the court as the appointee of a Republican governor. 

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtOne path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat comes up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are nonpartisan: All candidates run in the state’s primary election, usually in the spring, and if no one receives a majority there is a runoff in November.

A justice may also first join the court through a governor’s appointment, if a seat becomes vacant during a term. 

State officials have gamed this system, with justices typically vacating their seats in a manner that ensures their successor is chosen by the governor rather than by voters. (As of August 2023, only one of the nine justices was first elected in an election.) Due to a loophole in state law, some of this gamesmanship has even led elections to be canceled.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts six years. But if a justice is appointed unto the court, their first term is shorter.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by running for re-election. If a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, an election is held without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor names a replacement; this choice is not constrained. That new justice serves until the next even-year election cycle occurring at least six months after their appointment.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for seven years. 
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsGeorgia justices face no mandatory retirement age. They receive enhanced retirement benefits if they retire by age 70, though.

There is also no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Qualifications Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. But this process was significantly weakened in 2016, due to a push by a former judge who had been removed due to the commission and wanted to gut it.
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Georgia and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe court reviews the decisions of the Georgia Court of Appeals, as well as some decisions of the Georgia Business Court. 
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court decisions involving election contests, death sentence cases, cases involving interpreting a treaty, the Georgia Constitution, or the U.S. Constitution, are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions, before before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice chairs the Judicial Council, which is a body that can recommend changes to the judiciary; the council oversees the Administrative Office of the Courts, which handles the system’s operations.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by, subject to the approval of the judges of the affected courts and the ratification of the General Assembly.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Uniform Superior Court Rules, which govern what happens in all trial courts, though the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which detail how criminal cases and investigations are conducted in Georgia, are set by the legislature. (Still, some matters that shape criminal cases, such as the appointment of legal counsel for indigent defendants, are detailed in the former.) The supreme court does not set bail schedules or sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingJudges are not subject to recall elections.
Other noteworthy rolesWhen four of the state’s statewide elected officials ask for it, the supreme court can determine whether a statewide official is suffering from a physical or mental disability that precludes them from acting in their role.


Hawaii Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members.

The number is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsHawaii does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, two of the court’s five seats are vacant. Two sitting justices were chosen by a Democratic governor and one by a Republican governor; all three were confirmed by a Democratic-run Senate. 

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it onto the court through a nomination by the governor. The Senate can confirm or reject the nomination. (If the Senate does not vote within thirty days, it’s deemed to have consented to the governor’s choice; in practice, the Senate has voted on all sitting justices as of August 2023.)

In addition, the governor’s choice is constrained to a list of names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Selection Commission. Six of the commission’s nine members are named by partisan officials (the governor and legislative leaders), with the others named by the chief justice and state bar.
When a term endsA full term lasts ten years.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new term. This requires that they petition the Judicial Selection Commission asking to stay in office. If the commission agrees, the justice gets an additional ten-year term; if not, the seat is deemed vacant. 
When there is a vacancyWhenever there is a vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement using the procedure outlined above. The appointee then begins a regular ten-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA justice must be a U.S. citizen and a member of the state bar for the ten years preceding their nomination.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a seven-person body whose members are all appointed by the supreme court.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Hawaii and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the state’s Intermediate Appellate Court.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Challenges to legislative redistricting plans start at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint an administrative director to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe state supreme court writes the Rules of Penal Procedure, which govern many aspects of how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Hawaii, from the issuance of peremptory challenges to a trial’s venue. It does not set bail schedules or sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Idaho Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members.

The size of the court is set by the state constitution.
Judicial electionsIdaho holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one justice were chosen by a Republican governor. This is a conservative court that recently upheld a state ban on abortion, though it has also bucked GOP preferences over the last few years, for instance in a 2021 ruling striking down restrictions on ballot initiatives.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. Each seat is up every six years, and any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner; all candidates run in the state’s primary election, and if no one receives a majority there is a runoff in November.

A justice may also join the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy that arose during a term (see below). 

In practice, most of the sitting justices as of August 2023 have made it on the court through an appointment as opposed to an election.
When a term endsA regular term lasts six years. But if a justice is appointed unto the court, their first term is shorter.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by running for re-election. If they decide to retire at the end of their term, an election is held without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor appoints a new justice to the seat. The choice is not subject to confirmation by the legislature, but the governor is constrained to a list of names prepared by the state’s Judicial Council, a body composed of the chief justice and eight other members chosen by the governor with judicial and legislative input.

Earlier this year, Idaho reformed its judicial council to increase the governor’s power to make appointments, and decrease the state bar’s, which also provides governors more clout to shape who sits on the bench.

Then, the new justice serves out the remainder of the original term. (There is no special election.)
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old, a U.S. citizen, an active member of the Idaho Bar for the two years immediately prior to becoming a justice, and a member of any state’s bar for at least the ten years immediately prior to becoming a justice.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the full court, and serves a four-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Council may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The council is a body composed of the chief justice and eight other members chosen by the governor with judicial and legislative input.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Idaho and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtIdaho has an unusual system: All appeals of district court decisions are docketed with the supreme court, technically skipping the intermediate court. The supreme court can then transfer nearly all cases to the Idaho Court of Appeals if it so chooses. (It cannot transfer appeals of death sentence cases, and appeals of decisions made by the state’s Industrial Commission and Public Utilities Commission.)

As such, the supreme court is tasked with reviewing the decisions made by the state’s district courts, its Public Utilities Commission, its Industrial Commission, and its Court of Appeals. 
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution names the chief justice as the “executive head of the judicial system,” which involves some limited powers in practice like appointing the chief judge of the court of appeals and transferring cases to individual appeals court judges. The full court oversees the courts’ administration, including appointing an administrative director to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court sets the Idaho Criminal Rules, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled, from grand jury formation to venue changes. It also sets bail schedules for misdemeanor charges. Setting sentencing guidelines are largely the province of the legislature, though,
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe court annually collects district court judges’ opinions about issues in state law, which they report to the governor.

Illinois Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsIllinois holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.

Unlike in most other states, Illinois justices represent districts. Three of the seven are elected across Cook County (Chicago); the rest of the state is divided into four districts, each of which elects a justice.

Districts are drawn by the legislature, subject to the governor’s signature. But the legislature is not required to draw a new map after a decennial census, and in practice they have not done this regularly, leading to unequal districts. The state redrew the judicial map in 2021 for the first time since 1964: explore the current boundaries.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, five justices are Democrats and two are Republicans. The court’s partisan balance was at stake in 2022, with two seats on the ballot; Democrats defended their majority, in fact expanding their edge.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtSomeone may join the court via an appointment by the sitting justices, if they’re filling a vacancy that arose during a departing justice’s term. 

The other path to join this court is by running in a partisan election. 

But not all elections allow for that possibility: If a justice has decided to retire at the end of a term, or if they’re facing voters for the very first time after an appointment, then any qualified candidate can jump in and try to make it onto the court. Otherwise, the election is closed to newcomers. 
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts ten years. If a justice is appointed onto the court, though, their first term is shorter.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term. If they are appointed and have never yet faced voters, they must run in a regular partisan election where they might face challengers.

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, they must run in a retention race and obtain 60 percent of the vote to be retained. (The 2020 cycle saw the first failed retention election for a supreme court justice in the state’s history.)

If a justice decides instead to retire at the end of their term, a regular partisan election is held without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy occurs, the supreme court as a whole is tasked with appointing a temporary replacement. 

The appointed justice serves until a special election that’s scheduled for the next even-year election cycle. Any qualified candidate can run and challenge the appointed justice in that special election. 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a U.S. citizen, a licensed attorney at law, and a resident of the judicial district they represent.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court for a three-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineIllinois justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Illinois Courts Commission may discipline, or remove, them after a complaint by the Judicial Inquiry Board. What are these two bodies? The board, which initiates the complaint, is a nine-person body made up of two judges and seven gubernatorial appointees. The commission, which hears the complaint, is made up of five judges and two gubernatorial appointees.
RecallThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Illinois and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Illinois Appellate Court. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to legislative redistricting plans start at the supreme court, as do cases that involve laws relating to gubernatorial succession.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the state’s court system, though the court appoints an administrative director to assist the chief justice. The court as a whole may also act to temporarily reassign judges to different courts and it convenes an annual judicial conference to suggest improvements in judicial administration.

The court also sets the number of appellate divisions in each appellate district, and it determines how circuit court judges are appointed. 
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, which govern many aspects of how criminal cases and investigations are handled, from the rules of peremptory challenges to the duties of a prosecutor. Setting sentencing guidelines are largely the province of the legislature, though.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the eight-member Legislative Redistricting Commission fails to file an approved redistricting plan for state legislative districts, the state supreme court appoints a ninth member. 
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Indiana Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members.

The constitution requires that the court have between five and nine members, but allows the legislature to set the exact number.
Judicial electionsIndiana holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment, which is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

The governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of three names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Nominating Commission. This body is composed of the chief justice, and six members selected by the state bar and the governor.
When a term endsA full term on the court is ten years. A justice’s first term after their appointment is shorter, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by facing voters in a retention election. They need to obtain a simple majority of the vote to be retained. Retention elections are held in November.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement who serves for two years and must then face a retention election in the next election cycle to stay on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a U.S. citizen and they must admitted to the state bar for at least ten years, or else be a judge on a circuit, superior, or criminal court in Indiana for at least five years.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected, among the justices of the court, by a body called the Judicial Nominating Commission. A chief justice serves a five-year term, and can then be reappointed.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Qualifications may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court can examine the matter. That commission is identical to the nominating commission described above.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Indiana and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Indiana Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseCriminal cases in which death is imposed can be appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises and appoints the staff of the state’s Office of Judicial Administration, which oversees state court administration.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Indiana, from record-keeping to the manner of asking for a venue change. The court does not set bail schedules, nor sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesIf asked by a legislative leader, the court determines whether the governor is suffering from a physical or mental disability that precludes them from acting in their role; it is the only court that weighs in on such a petition.


Iowa Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.
The constitution requires at least three justices but allows the legislature to increase the number. The last time the legislature modified the number was 1998, when it reduced the number of justices from nine to seven.
Judicial electionsIowa holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices have been selected by a Republican governor; this is a more relevant factor for the three justices who’ve been selected since Republicans passed a reform in 2019 for the governor to have more control over who they appoint.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment, which is not subject to legislative confirmation. 

The governor’s choice is constrained, though, to a slate of three candidates prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Nominating Commission. Since a reform passed by Republicans in 2019, the majority of its members are now appointed by the governor.
When a term endsA full term lasts eight years. If a justice is appointed onto the court, though, their initial term is shorter.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one through a retention election. They need to obtain a simple majority to be retained. Retention elections are held in November of even-numbered years.

The only time that any justices have lost a retention election was in 2010, when three of the justices who joined the court’s 2009 decision striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage lost re-election amidst a conservative backlash.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement, using the procedure outlined above. The appointee serves for one year, and then faces a retention election in the next election cycle. 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been admitted to the state bar by the time of their selection.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court for a two-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 72. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a seven-member body made-up of a mix of judicial and gubernatorial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Iowa and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtAll district court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may choose to transfer some to the Court of Appeals, an intermediate appellate court; if it does, decisions by this court can then return to the supreme court for further review.
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to state legislative redistricting start at the state supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court has the authority to supervise the rest of the court system, but it’s meant to do so based on the advice of the state’s Judicial Council. This is the body that reviews administrative matters pertaining to Iowa’s court system; the council is chaired by the chief justice, and also includes the chief judges of the judicial districts and the chief judge of the court of appeals.

The supreme court also appoints a state court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIit has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. 
But new rules are submitted to a legislative council, composed of members of both chambers, which can delay their implementation; in addition, the full legislature can supersede rules made by the court.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedures, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Iowa. The court adopted a comprehensive revision of the rules in 2022. Iowa’s Judicial Council, a panel of judges, proposes a unified bond schedule, that the supreme court can approve.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the legislature fails to approve a state legislative redistricting plan by Sept. 15 of the odd-numbered year after the decennial census, the court draws those maps. (In addition, challenges to state legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.)
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Kansas Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members

The constitution requires at least seven justices, but the legislature can increase the number.
Judicial electionsKansas holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, five of the seven justices were chosen by a Democratic governor. The court’s 2019 decision to affirm abortion rights as part of the state constitution angered conservatives, but six justices were up in 2022 and all secured new terms.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment, which is not subject to legislative confirmation.

The governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of three names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Supreme Court Nominating Commission; this is a nine-person body whose members are selected by the state bar or the governor.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts six years. If a justice is appointed unto the court, though, their first term is shorter.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one in a retention election. They need to obtain a simple majority to be retained. Retention races are held in November of even-numbered years.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement subject to the same procedure as the new appointees. The appointee serves one year before facing a retention race in the next election cycle.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old and a member of the state bar, and must have actively practiced law for at least ten years prior to joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice automatically serves as chief justice, though they can decline to serve as chief.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsThere’s a mandatory retirement triggered when a justice reaches the age of 75, but the justice can finish out their term. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a 14-person body whose members are appointed by the supreme court.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Kansas and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Kansas Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Cases involving legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court is meant to supervise the state’s court system; the chief justice has the authority to appoint court administrators to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the rules that govern procedures in the state’s district courts, which includes the procedures relating to criminal cases and investigations. This does not include a bail schedule.

Separately, the Kansas Sentencing Commission drafts the sentencing guidelines; the chief justice of the supreme court sits on the commission and appoints a court services officer to serve on the commission as well.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleNo, but lower-court judges might be involved in local parole boards.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesOne of the court members sits on the Kansas Judicial Council alongside other state judges and lawyers; the council reviews the operations of the judicial branch to recommend changes, and it surveys attorneys on the performance of judges before retention elections.

Kentucky Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsKentucky holds elections where multiple candidates can face off. 

Unlike in most other states, justices are elected in different districts.

The legislature draws the districts, subject to the governor’s signature, but it is not required to do so after a decennial census, and in practice they have not done so regularly, leading to districts of unequal size. The state redrew its judicial map in 2022; it had not done so since 1991. The geographic divisions can be viewed here.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionEven beyond the court’s ostensibly nonpartisan status, it is difficult to succinctly summarize the politics of the court: That’s because nearly all sitting justices as of August 2023 have first made it onto the court by winning a nonpartisan election. That’s very different from other states that seem to have similar nonpartisan election systems (such as Georgia or Minnesota) but where judges tend to resign before the end of their term, enabling partisan governors to fill their seats.

Further complicating the picture, conservative candidates who ran on pushing the court to the right have both won and lost in recent cycles.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is an election; when a seat is up, candidates can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Elections are held by judicial districts, through a nonpartisan procedure. The race is decided in November, but a primary narrows the field if there are more than two candidates.
Justices may also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment, if the governor has to fill a vacancy.
When a term endsEach seat is on the ballot every eight years. 

When their seat is up, a justice can decide to seek a new term and run as a regular candidate. An election open to all eligible candidates is held regardless.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor appoints a replacement. The appointment is not subject to legislative confirmation, but the governor is constrained to choosing from a slate of candidates prepared by a nominating commission, known as the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission. This seven-person body is made up of the chief justice and a mix of people selected by the state bar and by the governor, with some consideration for partisan balance.

The appointee gets to serve the remainder of the term to which their predecessor was originally elected; there is no special election.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a U.S. citizen, and must have been a member of the state bar for at least eight years, as well as a resident of the district they represent for at least two years.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court to serve a four-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission may order discipline, including removal, a decision subject to the review of the full supreme court. (The commission is a body made-up of judges and members chosen by the state bar and governor.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Kentucky and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Kentucky Court of Appeals. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court
Other paths to hearing a caseCriminal cases in which death is imposed are appealed directly to the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as the “executive head” of the judicial branch; this includes the power to appoint court administrators to handle day-to-day affairs, temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and submit a budget to the legislature.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Kentucky; the rules include bail schedules. The details of sentencing are left to the legislature.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe court has the power to certify a necessity for more or fewer district court judges.

If petitioned by the attorney general, the supreme court may determine that the governor is unable to discharge their duties.


Louisiana Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsLouisiana holds elections where multiple candidates can face off. Unlike in most other states, jJustices each represent a different district.

The legislature draws the districts, subject to the governor’s signature, but it is not required to draw a new map after a decennial census, and in practice it has not regularly done so, leading to unequal districts. 

Louisiana’s districts were last drawn in 1997. The geographic divisions in effect since that 1997 map can be reviewed here.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, five justices are Republicans, one is an independent, and one is a Democrat.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a partisan election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are held by district; candidates run by party, but as is custom in Louisiana, everyone appears on the same ballot and the top two move on to a runoff if no one clears 50 percent.

A new judge may also join the court through a short-lived appointment of no more than a year if they are filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts ten years.

At the end of their term, a justice can run for re-election in their district, or else let the election proceed without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs during a justice’s term, the governor must call a special election within 12 months (if the regular election is already less than a year away, there is no need for a special election).

Until the vacancy is filled, the supreme court appoints someone to fill the seat temporarily; that justice is ineligible to run for a full term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least ten years.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judiciary Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a nine-member body made up of judges and judicial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Louisiana and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Louisiana Circuit Courts of Appeal, the intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseDistrict court decisions that touch on actions by the Public Service Commission are appealed directly to the supreme court; the same is true of decisions that declare a statute to be unconstitutional, or that challenge a death sentence.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the rest of the judicial branch, and the constitution designates the chief justice as the system’s “chief administrative officer.” In practice, the court selects an administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. 
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Code of Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Louisiana. The rules include general sentencing guidelines, but more detailed guidelines are written by the Louisiana Sentencing Commission, a policymaking body that includes one supreme court justice. The rules do not set bail schedules.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the other branches fail to adopt a new set of legislative maps after the decennial census, the supreme court is tasked with drawing the maps.
Other noteworthy rolesIf the legislature requests it by a supermajority, the state supreme court has the authority to review whether a statewide official is unable to perform their duties.


Maine Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsMaine does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were nominated by a Democratic governor and confirmed by a Democratic-run Senate.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nominee must be confirmed by the state Senate. 

The governor’s choice faces no constraint, but the current governor, Democrat Janet Mills, issued an executive order setting up a Judicial Nominations Advisory Committee that can offer non-binding recommendations. 
When a term endsA regular term on the court lasts seven years.

After finishing a term, a justice may seek to be reappointed to a new term. If the governor chooses to prolong their tenure, the state Senate has to confirm the justice again; the governor could also choose to not reappoint them and name someone new instead. 
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor selects a replacement who goes on to serve a full seven-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceState law specifies that a justice must be “learned in the law and of sobriety of manners.”
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may remove them by a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure known as removal by address to remove a judge without the formalities of an impeachment trial. 

Third, the state’s Committee on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The committee is a seven-person body whose members are all appointed by the supreme court.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Maine and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThere is no appellate court in Maine; the supreme court reviews the decisions of the trial courts, known as superior courts.
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to redistricting start at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the judicial branch, which includes issuing rules regarding the administration of the court system and preparing a budget. The chief justice appoints the state court administrator to oversee the Administrative Office of the Courts, which handles day-to-day management.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Unified Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Maine. The court also publishes a bail manual, which interprets the bail code adopted by the legislature for lower courts to apply. The court does not set the details of sentencing.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesIf the secretary of state determines that a proposed initiative measure did not submit enough signatures, that decision can be reviewed by the superior court and then by the supreme court on appeal.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the legislature and governor fail to adopt new legislative and/or congressional maps June 11 the year after the decennial census is conducted, the supreme court draws the maps. 
Other noteworthy rolesEvery ten years, the court has the power to rearrange the words in the constitution, and delete inoperative words and phrases, to make the constitution a cohesive document in light of amendments. The legislature must approve the rearranged constitution.

Also, if the legislature requests it by a supermajority, the supreme court has the authority to determine whether a governor is unable to perform their duties.


Maryland Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsMaryland holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, six of the seven sitting justices were chosen by former Republican Governor Larry Hogan. (The seventh was chosen by former Democratic Governor Martin O’Malley.) Each also was confirmed by a Democratic-run Senate.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nominee must be confirmed by the Senate.

The governor may select any nominee that they want. Since 1970, though, governors have received guidance from judicial nominating commissions and abided by them voluntarily without an obligation to do so. 
When a term endsA full term on the court is ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can choose to seek a new term by running for retention within the district they represent. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained; retention races are held in November.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor fills it by appointment through the process described above. A new justice serves for one year, then must face voters at the next general election to stay on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old and a member of the state bar, as well as a resident of the state. There must be one justice from each of the state’s seven appellate districts. 
The chief justiceThe governor designates one of the sitting justices as a chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may remove them by a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may remove them through a rarely-used procedure known as removal by address.

Third, the state’s Commission on Judicial Disabilities may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is an 11-person body whose members are appointed by the governor, and confirmed by the Senate.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Maryland and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Appellate Court of Maryland. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to legislative redistricting start at the state supreme court. The same is true of cases that touch on gubernatorial succession issues.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, submitting the judiciary’s budget to the legislature, and choosing the district court’s chief judge.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Maryland Rules of Procedure, which lay out how criminal cases and investigations (and other court procedures) are handled in the state. The court does not set bail schedules.

Sentencing guidelines in Maryland are adopted by the Maryland State Commission on Criminal Sentencing Policy; the chief justice of the supreme court sits on the commission, and also appoints two other judges to sit on it.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

Massachusetts Supreme Court


1. The big picture

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsMassachusetts does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all justices were chosen by former Republican Governor Charlie Baker.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nominee must be confirmed by the state’s Executive Council.
When a term endsThere are no set terms. Justices can stay on the court until they reach age 70, without ever needing to seek reappointment or re-election.
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy occurs, the governor fills it through the nomination process described above.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be younger than 70.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal. (The commission is a nine-person body, made up of a mix of gubernatorial and judicial appointees.) If the judge under scrutiny is a lower-court judge, the full supreme court examines the matter; if the judge under scrutiny is a supreme court justice, though, the complaint is heard by appeals court judges instead. 
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Massachusetts and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court hears appeals of decisions by the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, the state’s intermediate appellate court. It may also directly take up an appeal of a trial court decision.
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to legislative redistricting start at the state supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the administration of the court system, including by appointing the chief justice of the trial court. 
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Massachusetts, from arraignment procedures to grand jury formations. It does not set bail schedules. The details of sentencing are left to the legislature.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesThe court’s specific role is to determine whether two measures adopted in the same election are in conflict; if it does, only the one receiving the highest number of votes is adopted.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe court can issue advisory opinions upon request of the governor, executive council, or either chamber of the legislature
With the support of the chief justice and a majority of the associate justices, it can also determine that the governor is unable to discharge the duties of their office. (The supreme court need not be asked by another body to make such a determination.)

The court also has the authority to remove county officials (commissioners, treasurers, sheriffs, registers of probate, district attorneys, and recorders).


Michigan Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsMichigan holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and three are Republicans. Democrats defended their majority in the 2022 elections.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is an election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Elections are held statewide. Candidates can run for and secure a party’s nomination at a party convention, though parties are then not listed on the general election ballot. (This is an unusual rule.)

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy. 
When a term endsAll seats are on an eight year cycle. This means that a full term on the court is eight years, though a justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed.

When a seat comes up, a justice can run for re-election or retire, in which case the election takes place without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs during a term, the governor selects a replacement. The appointee does not need legislative approval.

The new justice only serves until the next even-year election cycle occurring at least 105 days after the vacancy occurs; A special election, held through to the regular procedure described above, then decides who will finish out the remainder of the original term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least five years and must be under age 70.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the members of the court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsAfter they have turned 70, justices may no longer seek re-election. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Second, the state’s Judicial Tenure Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (This is a body composed of a mix of judges, gubernatorial appointees, and attorneys.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Michigan and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Michigan Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Cases that are challenging either legislative or congressional redistricting, or the actions of the independent redistricting commission, start in the supreme court. 

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the judicial system; this includes the power to make rules regarding the procedure of the Michigan Court of Appeals and the circuit courts. The chief justice appoints court administrators to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe court writes the Michigan Court Rules, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Michigan, from the use of peremptory challenges to use of videoconferencing technology. It does not set bail schedules, though. In addition, the supreme court also drafts sentencing guidelines that are voluntary as part of a manual.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court can issue an advisory opinion on the constitutionality of new laws upon the request of the governor or either chamber of the legislature.

In addition, the supreme court can be asked by legislative leaders to determine whether the governor is able to perform the duties of the office.


Minnesota Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The constitution requires that the supreme court be between seven and nine justices but allows the legislature to set the number. The legislature most recently modified the number in 1982, when it reduced the size of the court from nine to seven justices.
Judicial electionsMinnesota holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionEven though the main path to joining the court is meant to be a nonpartisan election, all sitting justices as of August 2023 owe their seat on the court to a governor’s appointment—and in Minnesota, governors are largely unconstrained when they get to choose. Five of the justices were first appointed by a Democrat and two by a Republican.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtOne path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. (Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner. The race is decided in a general election in November; if there are more than two candidates, they all appear on the primary ballot to decide the Top 2.)

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy. And as of 2023, every single Minnesota justice has first made it on the court through an appointment.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.
At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs during a justice’s term, the governor selects a replacement. The appointee does not need legislative approval.

The appointee serves until the next even-year election cycle occurring more than one year after the appointment, at which point they can seek a full term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceThe state constitution specifies that a new justice must be “learned in the law.”
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, choose someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Standards Board may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (Board members are chosen by the governor, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Minnesota and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 
Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Minnesota Court of Appeals, the Workers’ Compensation Court of Appeals, and the Tax Court.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe court supervises the state’s court system and appoints the state court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs. The chief justice directs this administrator, and can temporarily reassign lower-court judges to other courts to meet caseload needs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which lay out how criminal cases and investigations (and other court procedures) are handled in the state from peremptory challenges to grand jury formation, with the assistance of an advisory committee. The rules can supercede statutes passed by the legislature on some but not all aspects of procedure. The court does not set bail schedules, though.

Separately, the chief justice sits on the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which drafts sentencing guidelines, and appoints two of the commission’s other members.
Election certificationTwo justices sit on the state’s canvassing board, alongside other state officials; this is the body that tabulates and certifies results.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleThe chief justice sits on the board of pardons alongside the governor and attorney general.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court reviews all recall petitions to determine if the alleged facts offer true and sufficient grounds, a power that it has exercised aggressively in the past. For instance, the court has often dismissed recall petitions filed against governors.


Mississippi Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has nine members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsMississippi holds elections where multiple candidates can face off. Unlike in most other states, Mississippi justices represent different geographic areas of the state.

The legislature draws the districts, subject to the governor’s signature. But the legislature is not required to draw a new map after a decennial census, and it has not done so since 1987. The current state map faces a lawsuit. Its geographic divisions can be reviewed here.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, six of the court’s nine members have been appointed by Republican governors; two others were affiliated to or endorsed by the GOP. The ninth was a de facto Democratic candidate in his last race.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is an election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Each election is held within a district. The race takes place in a nonpartisan manner, which means that all candidates appear on the November ballot, and if no candidate wins a majority, there is a runoff usually scheduled for late November.

But judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts eight years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement. 

If more than half of the original eight-year term remains, then the appointee serves on the court until a special election is held; that happens on the next cycle (on an odd- or even-numbered year) that is occurring more than nine months after the vacancy. But if less than half of the original term remains, the appointee serves out its remainder.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a practicing attorney who is at least 30 years old, and must have lived in Mississippi for the five years preceding their joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice automatically serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsThere is no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Performance may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the panel of judges examines the matter. If the judge under scrutiny is a lower-court judge, the review is conducted by the supreme court; but if it is a justice, then the review is heard by a tribunal of seven randomly-selected lower-court judges.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Mississippi and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtDecisions by the circuit and chancery courts are appealable directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may choose to transfer some cases to the Mississippi Court of Appeals, an intermediate appellate court that only began operations in 1995; decisions by the Court of Appeals can then return to the supreme court for further review.
Other paths to hearing a caseChallenges to ballot initiatives are meant to start at the supreme court directly, but the initiative process has been struck down by the court and remains invalid as of August 2023.

Decisions of the Public Service Commission are appealed to the supreme court if they concern filings for rate changes.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the court system; this includes the power to supervise the judiciary’s administrative office, whose director is appointed by the court.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Mississippi, from grand jury formation to arraignment procedures. The court does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesThe supreme court actually struck down the state’s existing initiative process in 2021, and as of August 2023 the process has not been fixed.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the legislature and governor fail to adopt new legislative maps after the decennial census, the back-up is a five-member commission that includes the chief justice.

Also, if the legislature and governor fail to redistrict the maps of the circuit and chancery court district after the decennial census, the supreme court takes over the redistricting process to draw new maps.
Other noteworthy rolesWhen asked by the secretary of state, the supreme court determines whether the governor is able to exercise their role.

Missouri Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsMissouri holds retention elections once a judge is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four judges were appointed by a Republican governor and three by a Democratic governor. This is an imperfect proxy since Missouri governors are comparatively constrained in who they choose.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe governor appoints all members of the supreme court.

The governor’s choice is not subject to legislative confirmation,  but it is constrained to a slate of three candidates prepared by a nominating commission, called the Appellate Judicial Commission. It includes one sitting member of the supreme court, three members chosen by the state bar, and three other members chosen by the governor, who thereby only selects a minority of this body.

Missouri was the first state, back in 1940, to adopt a judicial selection system involving such a screening committee; in fact, the model is known as the Missouri Plan. There’s been a recent push among state Republicans to change this model, which they say gives too much power to attorneys and the state bar.
When a term endsA full term on the court is 12 years. A judge’s initial term after their appointment is always shorter, though.

At the end of their term, a judge can seek a new one by running in a retention election. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor fills it through the procedure mentioned above. The new member serves until the next even-year election cycle that’s scheduled for at least one year after their appointment, at which point they can seek a full term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new member of the supreme court must have been a U.S. citizen for at least 15 years, a qualified voter of the state of Missouri for at least the nine years immediately preceding their selection, and a member of the state bar who is at least 30 years old.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is elected by a majority of the judges, for a term of the court’s choosing.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJudges must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineMembers of the Missouri supreme court may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach them, at which point a panel of judges hears a removal trial.

Second, the state’s Commission on Retirement, Removal, and Discipline may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is made up of a mix of appointees of the governor, of the state bar, and of circuit court judges.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Missouri and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Missouri Court of Appeals and of the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseCases involving the validity of a U.S. treaty, a state law, or constitutional provision are appealed directly to the supreme court. The same is true of criminal cases that involve a death sentence.

Cases that involve legislative redistricting are also appealed directly to the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises all courts in the state, which includes appointing the administrators who handle day-to-day affairs, adopting rules for the rest of the judiciary to follow, and temporarily reassigning judges to different courts. The chief justice presides over a judicial council that reviews the administration of the judicial system and can recommend changes.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. 
Setting the rules of criminal procedureIt sets the Code of Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Missouri, from witness subpoenas to the formatting of verdicts. The court does not bail schedules.

It also appoints two of the members of the Missouri Sentencing Advisory Commission, which drafts sentencing recommendations.
Election certificationMissouri’s State Board of Canvassers includes two judges selected by the secretary of state; these judges can come from any court, so they may, but do not need to, be supreme court justices. (Learn more about the election certification process in Missouri.)
Ballot initiativesThe court has no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond its usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleThe court has no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the state’s Independent Bipartisan Citizens Commissions fails to redraw the state’s legislative districts after the decennial district, the authority to do so falls unto commission of judges appointed by the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesWhen lawmakers impeach a state official, the supreme court hears the resulting trial and decides whether to convict. (That’s an unusual arrangement in that this power is in the hands of the state Senate in most states.) If the impeached official is a justice, a panel of other judges replaces the supreme court.

When asked to weigh in by a panel of state officials, the supreme court can determine whether the governor is able to fulfill their role.


Montana Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has seven members.

The constitution sets the minimum number of justices at five but allows the legislature to increase the number to seven via law.
Judicial electionsMontana holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, two sitting justices were appointed by a Democratic governor, a third is a former Democratic politician, and a fourth won his last race with support from liberal-leaning groups. Only one justice was appointed by a Republican governor. Conservatives have hoped to push the court to the right and have tried, unsuccessfully so far, to change election rules to secure greater power.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent.

Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner; that means all candidates run in the primary, and the top 2 candidates face off in November. 

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. (A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.)

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running in a regular election. If they retire instead, the election simply proceeds without an incumbent.

In an unusual rule, if no one but the incumbent enters the race, the race converts into a retention race: The justice must then obtain a simple majority to be retained. 
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor selects a replacement; the nominee must then be confirmed by the Senate.
The appointee serves until the next even-year election cycle, and then must face voters if they want a full term. 
Note that the governor’s choice of an appointment is now unconstrained; state Republicans abolished a judicial nominating commission in 2021.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for the five years preceding their joining the court, and must be a U.S. citizen who has resided for Montana for at least two years.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineMontana justices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-thirds majorities.

Second, the state’s Judicial Standards Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is made up of appointees of the governor, speaker, and attorney general, all of whom must be confirmed by the Senate.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Montana and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtMontana has no court of appeals under the supreme court. As such, the supreme court reviews decisions made by the state’s trial courts, known as district courts. It also reviews decisions made by the state’s worker’s compensation court and water courts.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises all other courts, and it appoints a court administrator to manage the day-to-day affairs of the judiciary branch.
The chief justice has some administrative duties over the court system, including the ability to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint judges to the state’s water courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The legislature can disapprove the rules at either of the two sessions following their proposal; they are adopted once the legislature does not disapprove of them.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court has limited power to shape how criminal cases are handled, as the legislature sets the code of criminal procedure. The supreme court sets a bond schedule, but local courts are not obligated to follow it.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesThe court reviews the ballot statements for measures appearing on the ballot.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThis is the nation’s only state supreme court that still has a popularly elected clerk, which is the official common in any judicial branch who receives a court’s legal filings and supervises court records.


Nebraska Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionsNebraska holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.

In a unique arrangement, Nebraska’s chief justice is a statewide official and faces a statewide election, but the associate justices each represent a different district. The legislature draws the districts every decade. The latest map can be viewed here.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one justice was chosen by a Republican governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s appointment. This is not subject to legislative confirmation.

However, the governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of two names put forth by a judicial nominating commission. This is a body composed of the chief justice, who is a non-voting member, and eight other members selected by the governor and state bar.
When a term endsA full term on the court lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is always shorter after their appointment, though.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one through a retention election. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained. Retention elections are held in November of even-numbered years.

The only justice to lose retention in Nebraska history is David Lanphier in 1996.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement using the procedure outlined above. The justice then serves for 3 years and faces a retention race at the next even-year election cycle.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old and a resident of Nebraska for at least 3 years immediately preceding their joining the court. In addition, the associate justices must be residents of the supreme court districts they represent.
Chief justiceThe governor appoints someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the legislature may impeach them, at which point a panel of judges hears the removal trial. (Unless the impeached judge is not a justice, that panel is the full supreme court.)

Second, the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission includes the chief justice, as well as other judges and members appointed by the governor and state bar.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Nebraska and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Nebraska Court of Appeals. It may also agree to directly take up a district court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Note that, in an unusual arrangement that only exists in two states, this supreme court needs a supermajority (five out of seven justices) to declare a statute unconstitutional.
Other paths to hearing a caseCriminal cases in which death is imposed, as well as election contests for state offices, are appealed directly to the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as the “executive head” of the court system. The chief justice supervises its administration, including the appointment of an administrative director who handles day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The rules cannot conflict with state law.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Supreme Court Rules, which includes rules that govern how some aspects of criminal cases are handled in Nebraska’s trial courts. The court does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe supreme court hears the subsequent trial when the unicameral legislature impeaches a state official, which means that the court decides whether to convict (and how to punish). If the impeached official is a justice, a panel of other judges replaces the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Nevada Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.
The constitution requires at least three justices, but allows the legislature to increase the number.
Judicial electionsNevada holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionEven beyond justices’ ostensible nonpartisan quality, it’s tricky to say more as to their current balance because Nevada has oscillated in recent years between extremely uneventful supreme court races (such as in 2022, when a candidate made it onto the court without facing any opponent), and races that approximate regular partisan dynamics (such as the 2020 election in which a de facto Republican candidate backed by conservative donor Sheldon Adelson beat a Democratic lawmaker).

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are held in a nonpartisan way: All candidates run in the primary ballot, and the top 2 face off in November. (There is no primary election if there are two or fewer candidates.)

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy. 
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts six years. A justice’s term may be shorter if they have been appointed or if they’ve won a special election, though.

When their term ends, a justice can seek a new term by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs during a term, the governor names a replacement. The appointee does not need legislative approval, but the governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of three people put forth by the state’s Commission on Judicial Selection. (That’s a three-member body that includes a justice, plus appointees of the state bar and the governor.)

The appointee serves until the next even-year election cycle, at which point a special election is held. The winner does not get a full six-year term: They only fill the remainder of the interrupted term. 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a U.S. citizen who is at least 25 years old. They must also have been licensed to practice law for 15 years (at least two of them in Nevada) and resided in Nevada for the two years preceding their joining the court.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as chief justice for a two-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsThere is no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the Assembly may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s Commission on Judicial Discipline may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a body composed of appointees of the court, state bar, and governor; it may include justices.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Nevada and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtIn an unusual arrangement, most district court decisions are appealed straight to the supreme court. If it so chooses, the supreme court can transfer some to the Nevada Court of Appeals, the intermediate appellate court; that court’s decisions can then be reviewed by the supreme court.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as the court system’s “administrative head,” including the power to appoint a state court administrator to manage day-to-day affairs and temporarily reassign lower-court judges to other courts. 
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. 
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Nevada, from grand jury formation to arraignment procedures. The court does not set bail schedules.

Separately, the chief justice sits on the Sentencing Commission, which can recommend reforms but does not draft sentencing guidelines; the chief justice also appoints two of the commission’s other members.
Election certificationThe state supreme court serves as the state’s canvassing board, which means it generates a statewide canvass and certifies the results. (You can learn more about Nevada’s procedures here.)
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleThe supreme court doubles as the state board of pardons commissioners, with the addition of the governor and attorney general. 
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

New Hampshire Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size is set in state law.
Judicial electionsNew Hampshire does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionThree of the court’s five justices were appointed to the court by Republican Governor Chris Sununu, and then confirmed by a GOP-run executive council. One of Sununu’s appointees, Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald, was initially rejected by the executive council while Democrats controlled it, but was later confirmed after Republicans won back the council.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The state’s Executive Council must confirm the nominee.

An executive order in 2000 established a nominating commission to propose a shortlist of candidates for the governor to choose from; the commission, which rests on the governor maintaining the executive order, applies to other judgeships too.
When a term endsA justice has no set term, and therefore does not have to seek re-election or re-appointment. They can serve until they turn 70.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor fills it using the procedure described above.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceN/A.
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as chief justice for a single five-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve since justices don’t serve defined terms.
DisciplineIf the state’s Judicial Conduct Committee determines that a judge’s misconduct warrants removal, it can refer the matter to the legislature for impeachment proceedings. (This committee is a body whose members are appointed by the chief justice, state bar, governor, and legislative leaders.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in New Hampshire and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtNew Hampshire has no court of appeal, so the supreme court reviews the decisions of the trial court (named the superior court), as well as some administrative agency decisions.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe court makes rules for the administration of the court system, and the chief justice is its administrative head. In practice, the court system is supervised by the Administrative Council, which includes the chief justice; separately, the Judicial Council surveys court operations and recommends improvements.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.

In addition, the supreme court appoints five of the 12 members of the New Hampshire Court Accreditation Commission, which is the body that sets standards for courtrooms and inspects courtrooms for compliance.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in New Hampshire. The court does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesBesides issuing binding legal rulings, the supreme court can issue an advisory opinion on questions of law when requested by the governor and council or a legislative chamber.


New Jersey Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution. 
Judicial electionsNew Jersey does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status An informal rule observed by New Jersey officials has dictated some partisan balance on the supreme court.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and three are Republicans. Note that the latest justice to join the supreme court is also the first former public defender in the court’s history.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The state Senate must confirm the nominee.

In practice, the nomination process is constrained by several informal conventions that state politicians have abided by in recent history. 

One is that Senate leaders have not scheduled confirmation votes without the approval of the senators who represent the nominee’s home county. Another is that no party enjoys more than a one-vote majority on the court, which has led governors to select justices of the opposite party.
When a term endsA justice’s initial term on the court lasts seven years.

At the end of this term, a governor can re-appoint them to a new term; the justice would also need to be confirmed by the Senate once more. (This process provoked considerable controversy during Chris Christie’s governorship.) If they do, they can serve until they hit the retirement age of 70.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement using the procedure described above; a new justice can serve a full term without having to face voters.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least ten years.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be impeached by the Assembly, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds majority.

Unlike in many states, there is no separate judicial conduct process with oversight over supreme court justices.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in New Jersey and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe court reviews the decisions of the state’s appellate court, known as the Superior Court Appellate Division.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe court may agree to directly take up and review cases that have yet been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court. Attorneys may for instance ask for this to expedite a case

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the state’s court system, which includes the authority to appoint an administrative director to handle day-to-day management and temporarily reassign judges to other courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Court, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in New Jersey, from ethical codes for lawyers to the issuing of peremptory challenges. The court also adopts Statewide Bail Schedules, though local courts are not obligated to follow them.
Separately, the chief justice sits on the Criminal Sentencing and Disposition Commission, which can recommend sentencing reforms but does not draft sentencing guideline.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe state’s independent redistricting commission has 12 partisan members, who once selected are supposed to pick a 13th, independent member. If they cannot choose, the supreme court does so. 

Also, if the commission is unable to pick a map among the options presented to it, the authority to choose goes to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesWhen prompted by a two-thirds vote in the legislature, the supreme court may determine that a vacancy exists in the governor’s office because of either a physical or mental disability or the governor’s continuous absence from the state.


New Mexico Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The constitution requires at least five justices, but the legislature has the power to add more.
Judicial electionsNew Mexico holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all five justices are Democrats. The party defended two of its seats against Republican challengers in the 2022 midterms.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtNew Mexico has an unusually complex system for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens whenever there’s a vacancy: if a justice has retired, died, or lost a retention race).

Someone could also join the court through an election. This is a more unusual route because most New Mexico elections do not allow for that possibility: Only when a justice has been appointed and faces their very first electoral test can outsiders run for the seat. (Otherwise, judicial races are organized in the form of retention elections, and new candidates cannot run to join the court at that time.)

As of August 2023, four of the state’s five sitting justices have joined the court through an appointment. Only one has made it in through an election: In 2018, Democrat Michael Vigil ousted a Republican justice who’d just been appointed by the state’s then-GOP governor.
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek to stay in office. If they’ve just been appointed and have not yet faced voters, they must run in a partisan election where any qualified candidate can challenge them. 

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, they must run in a retention election, which means an up-or-down vote with no opponent; they need 57 percent of the vote to be retained. (Party affiliation is not listed on the ballot during a retention race.)

In an unusual arrangement, if a justice decides to retire at the end of a term, the election is canceled. Instead, the retirement is treated as a vacancy and the governor appoints a new justice. This is what happened, for instance, at the end of Justice Charles Daniels’ term in 2018.
When there is a vacancyWhenever a vacancy occurs, the governor selects a replacement. 

The governor’s choice is not subject to legislative confirmation, but it is constrained to a slate prepared by the state’s Appellate Judges Nominating Commission. (This is a large body that includes judges and appointees of the governor, legislative leaders, and state bar.) 

The appointed judge serves until the next even-year election cycle; at that point, a special election open to other candidates is held to decide who will fill the remainder of the original term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 35 years old, a practicing attorney for at least ten years, and a resident of the state for at least the three years immediately before their joining the court.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by majority vote of the members of the supreme court. (Note: A judge who has yet to face any election cannot be selected.)

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Standards Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a large body composed of judges, lawyers, and gubernatorial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in New Mexico and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the New Mexico Court of Appeals. It also reviews Public Regulation Commission decisions.
Other paths to hearing a caseCriminal cases that involve a sentence of life imprisonment are appealed directly to the supreme court. The same is true for cases that involve the removal of a Board of Regents member for any state educational institution.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court appoints and supervises an administrative officer, who manages the state court system’s day-to-day operations. The chief justice has the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which governs how criminal cases and investigations are handled in New Mexico, from peremptory challenges to instructions to juries. The court does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationThe chief justice sits on the state’s canvassing board, alongside the governor and secretary of state. (Learn more about New Mexico’s process for certifying results.) 
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


New York Court of Appeals


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the constitution.
Judicial electionNew York does not hold elections for this court.
Partisan statusJudges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023 all judges were chosen by a Democratic governor, but the court until recently leaned to the right, and it is now closely divided between liberal, centrist, and conservative wings.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices first make it on the court through a nomination by the governor; the nominee must be confirmed by the state Senate.
The governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of names put forth by a nomination commission, called the state’s Commission on Judicial Nomination. (This commission is a 12-person body composed of appointees of the governor, the chief judge, and legislative leaders.)

Until very recently, this process was relatively muted; but progressive groups formed an unusual coalition to fight a nomination made by Governor Kathy Hochul in late 2022. The nomination failed, and the governor went a different route in early 2023.
When a term endsA term on the court lasts 14 years.

At the end of a term, even if a justice wants a new term, the process above happens all over again. The commission needs to prepare a new list of final candidates, and the governor gets to make a choice that is once again subject to the Senate confirmation. In 2014, for instance, Governor Andrew Cuomo chose to not reappoint a sitting judge. 
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement through the procedure described above. Once on the court, the nominee starts a full 14-year term and does not need to face voters to stay on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new judgeA new judge must be a resident of New York and a member of its state bar for at least ten years.
The chief judgeThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief judge’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at the end of the year in which they turn 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJudges may be removed from office in three ways.

First, if they are impeached by the Assembly, they face a removal trial in the Impeachment Court. In a unique arrangement, this body consists of the state Senate combined with the Court of Appeal judges.

Second, the legislature can undergo a procedure known as removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal. (The commission is a body whose members are appointed by the chief judge, governor, and legislative leaders.) The court of appeals can hear appeals from those determinations.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in New York and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe names of New York courts can feel counterintuitive and confusing. Its highest court is called the Court of Appeals, whereas a supreme court designates a trial court. There’s also an Appellate Division of the supreme court, which is an intermediate court. 

The Court of Appeals, i.e. the highest court, reviews decisions made by the Appellate Division. It may also agree to directly take up decisions made by supreme courts, before those have been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court decisions where a death sentence has been imposed, or where the validity of a statute under the U.S. Constitution is at issue, are appealed directly to the state’s highest court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe state constitution designates the chief judge of this court to also be the head judge of the entire court system; the chief judge appoints a chief court administrator to supervise the court system, and can adopt rules and policies for lower courts to follow with the approval of the Administrative Board of the Courts. 
Making rules for state courtsThe chief judge has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. New rules must be approved by the Administrative Board of the Courts, which is a panel of judges. The legislature has the power to regulate court procedure and to delegate responsibility for rulemaking to the courts.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe court of appeals sets the Uniform Rules for Courts Exercising Criminal Jurisdiction, which governs many aspects of how criminal cases and investigations are handled in New York. The court does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationThe judges have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesThe judges have no defined role in an initiative process.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleThis court has no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesThe judges on this court also serve on the state’s Court for the Trial of Impeachments, alongside state senators; this is the body that determines whether an impeached official should be removed and punished

North Carolina Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The constitution requires at least seven justices; state law can increase the number to nine.
Judicial electionsNorth Carolina holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, five justices are Republicans, and two are Democrats. The court flipped to the right in the 2022 elections, leading to major policy upheaval in the state.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any eligible candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are partisan, with candidates vying in primaries to get a party’s nomination and then face off in the general election.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy. 
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.
After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor names a replacement. (There is no constraint on the governor’s choice.) 

To stay on the court, the appointee then faces a special election at the next even-year election cycle held 60 days after the vacancy. If they win a special election, they get to serve a full eight-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire when they turn 72. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote. 

Second, the legislature can remove them by determining a “mental or physical incapacity.”

Third, the state’s Judicial Standards Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. Commission members are appointed by the chief justice, state bar, governor, and legislative leaders.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in North Carolina and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the North Carolina Court of Appeals. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court

The supreme court also reviews the orders of the North Carolina Utilities Commission.
Other paths to hearing a caseSome superior, business, or district court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court, skipping intermediate appellate review. They include: capital cases, cases designated as a “complex business case,” and trial court decisions regarding class action certification. 

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice appoints the director of the administrative office of the courts, who manages the court system’s operations, and also has the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by for appellate courts. Those are subject to the repeal or modification by the legislature.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe court writes the General Rules of Practice for the Superior and District Courts, which touch on some procedures that affect criminal cases; but the rules of criminal procedure that govern more details of how criminal cases and investigations are handled in North Carolina are set by the legislature.

Separately, the chief justice sits on the North Carolina Sentencing and Policy Advisory Commission, and appoints another member. The body can make recommendations to change sentencing policies, but the legislature determines most of the details.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


North Dakota Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is fixed in the state constitution. 
Judicial electionsNorth Dakota holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four of the five sitting justices have first made it onto the court as the appointee of a Republican governor. A fifth joined the court through a nonpartisan election; he was the former legal counsel of a Republican governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner. All candidates run in a primary and the top two advance to a November general election.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA full term lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyIn an unusual arrangement, the governor gets to choose between two paths to filling a vacancy, the governor may call an off-schedule special election to fill the remainder of the term, or else they may decide to select an interim justice. 

If the governor chooses the latter, their appointee is constrained to a slate of names put forth by the state’s Judicial Nominating Committee. The appointee gets to serve until the first even-year election cycle held two years after the appointment, at which point they must face voters to stay on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceThe constitution stipulates a new justice must be “learned in the law.” They must also be a U.S. citizen and North Dakota resident.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by the members of the supreme court and of the district court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a seven-person body with members appointed by the district court judges’ association, the state bar, and the governor.)
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in North Dakota and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtAll district court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may choose to transfer some to the Court of Appeals, a body that only sits sporadically and does not have a permanent membership; decisions by this court can then return to the supreme court.

Note that, in an unusual arrangement that only exists in two states, this supreme court needs a supermajority (four out of five justices) to declare a statute unconstitutional.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the court system, including appointing a court administrator that oversees its day-to-day management.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in North Dakota. The court has not set bail schedules in the law but it is required by law to do so by 2024.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Ohio Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The constitution requires at least seven justices. The legislature can increase the number with a two-thirds vote.
Judicial electionsOhio holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Republicans and three are Democrats. Republicans defended their majority in the 2022 elections. Republican Governor Mike DeWine, whose son already sits on the court, subsequently appointed a family friend to join the court as well.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Candidates run in partisan primaries to get a party’s nomination. 
Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA regular term lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyThe governor appoints a replacement, a choice that is not subject to legislative confirmation.

The appointee then serves until an election is held in the next even-numbered year occurring more than 40 days after the vacancy occurred; if they win, they get to serve a full eight-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been admitted to the state bar for at least the year before they join the court, and practiced law for at least six years.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats. (This means that, if an associate justice wants to become chief justice, they must move into that seat, which would then spark a new vacancy to their original seat; this happened in the 2022 midterms.)

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices cannot run for re-election after turning 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, justices can be removed through a complicated internal disciplinary process, which includes a review of the grievance filed against the justice by four separate panels of judges that can ultimately order discipline, including removal.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Ohio and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews decisions of the Ohio Courts of Appeals. It also reviews appeals from decisions of the Public Utilities Commission.
Other paths to hearing a caseDistrict court decisions in death penalty cases are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they have been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Cases that involve legislative and congressional redistricting start at the state supreme court. Questions that touch voters’ powers under the ballot initiative process do as well.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises other state courts, with the chief justice having powers that include appointing an administrative director to handle day-to-day management and temporarily reassigning judges to different courts.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. But the legislature can vote to disapprove of the rules.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Ohio, from jury selection to a trial’s venue. The court does not set bail schedules; it also has no role on the state commission that drafts sentencing guidelines.

In addition, a criminal sentencing commission exists within the state supreme court. The chief justice serves as its chair and appoints ten additional members, out of a total of 31. The commission can make policy recommendations about sentencing but it does not set sentencing guidelines; the legislature determines most details of sentencing.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesThe supreme court reviews challenges to the adoption or submission of a proposed constitutional amendment, which must be filed within 64 days before the election, and questions that touch voters’ initiative powers.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesIf the legislature prompts the question, the supreme court can determine if a governor is unable to discharge their duties.


Oklahoma Supreme Court

1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members.

The constitution sets the number of justices at nine but the number can be changed through law.
Judicial electionsOklahoma holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, five justices were chosen by a Republican governor and four by a Democratic governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll judges first make it on the court through the governor’s appointment. The appointee does not need to be confirmed by the legislature.

But the governor’s choice is constrained to a list of three names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Nominating Commission. (This commission is a 15-person body composed of appointees of the governor, state bar, and legislative leaders.)
When a term endsEach seat on the court is on a six-year cycle.

Whenever their seat is up, a justice can seek a new term through a retention election. Retention elections are scheduled for November, and the justice needs to obtain a simple majority to be retained.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor chooses a replacement.
To stay on the court, the appointee must face a retention election in the even-year cycle occuring at least one year after they take office. If they win, they only fill the remainder of the interrupted term, though if the seat was going to be up anyway then they secure a full six-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old. They must have been a member of the state bar for at least the five years preceding their joining the court, as well as a resident of the district they will represent on the court for at least one year.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJudges on this court may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Court on the Judiciary may order discipline, including removal. (This institution has a trial division made up mostly of circuit court judges; and it has an appellate division made up of judges and lawyers, as well as two supreme court justices.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThe supreme court is Oklahoma’s highest court on all civil cases. For instance, cases dealing with redistricting, or litigation over abortion restrictions, would be heard in this court.

It doesn’t have jurisdiction to review criminal cases. That is the province of the state’s second high court, the Court of Criminal Appeals. 
How most cases reach this courtAll trial court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may choose to transfer some to the the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, an intermediate appellate court; if it does, decisions by this court can then return to the supreme court for further review.

The supreme court also reviews decisions of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission; the constitution stipulates that the commission’s appeal should be prioritized.
Other paths to hearing a caseCases that involve challenges to legislative redistricting start directly at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court is tasked with supervising the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to other courts and to hire a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court does not write the rules of criminal procedure that determine how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Oklahoma; those are set by the legislature. The supreme court does write the rules that govern procedures in district courts, which have some limited reach in criminal cases.

But the supreme court sets bail schedules for a narrow range of charges.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleThe chief justice is responsible for appointing one of the members of the state’s Pardon and Parole Board.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe chief justice has the authority to appoint a member of the Oklahoma Ethics Commission.

Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals

1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsOklahoma holds retention elections once a judge is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one was chosen by a Republican governor. Also note that, again as of August 2023, this is one of the two courts on this page with no woman on the bench.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a judge joins this courtAll judges first make it on the court through the governor’s appointment. The appointee does not need to be confirmed by the legislature.

But the governor’s choice is constrained to a list of three names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Nominating Commission. (This commission is a 15-person body composed of appointees of the governor, state bar, and legislative leaders.)
When a term endsEach seat on the court is on a six-year cycle.
Whenever their seat is up, a justice can seek a new term through a retention election. Retention elections are scheduled for November, and the justice needs to obtain a simple majority to be retained.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs, the governor chooses a replacement.

To stay on the court, the appointee must face a retention election in the even-year cycle occurring at least one year after they take office. If they win, they only fill the remainder of the interrupted term, though if the seat was going to be up anyway then they secure a full six-year term.
Minimum qualifications for a new judgeA new judge must be at least 30 years old. They must have been a member of the state bar for at least the five years preceding their joining the court, as well as a resident of the district they will represent on the court for at least one year.
The head judge’s seatA presiding judge is selected by a majority of the court for a two-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJudges on this court may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Court on the Judiciary may order discipline, including removal. (This institution has a trial division made up mostly of circuit court judges; and it has an appellate division made up of judges and lawyers, as well as two supreme court justices.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThe Court of Criminal Appeals is one of Oklahoma’s two high courts. 

It has the ultimate authority to hear appeals in criminal cases. (This means that its decisions cannot be appealed to the supreme court.)

This court hears nothing other than criminal cases.
How most cases reach this courtThe court of criminal appeals reviews decisions made in criminal cases by district courts and local criminal courts. 

This is because there is no intermediary appellate court that hears criminal cases in Oklahoma; all trial court decisions in criminal cases are appealed directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThis power is largely exercised by Oklahoma’s supreme court, the state’s other high court. 
Making rules for state courtsThis power is largely exercised by Oklahoma’s supreme court, the state’s other high court.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court does not write the rules of criminal procedure that determine how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Oklahoma; those are set by the legislature.
Election certificationJudges have no role in the process of certifying election results.
Ballot initiativesJudges have no role in a ballot initiative process..
Pardons and paroleThe presiding judge of this court appoints a member of the Pardon and Parole Board.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Oregon Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsOregon holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all six sitting justices were selected by Kate Brown, a Democrat who served as governor through January 2023. Brown, who was governor through January 2023, drew attention for diversifying the bench, including naming Oregon’s first Asian Pacific American and first Black justices, as well as naming three justices with experience as public defenders, which is unusual on state courts. 

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is through a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner. All candidates run in the May primary; if no candidate receives a majority, a runoff is held in November.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA regular term lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

After finishing a term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises during a justice’s term, the governor names a replacement. There is no constraint on the governor’s choice.

The state then holds a special election to fill the remainder of the term; the appointed justice can run in that election. The race occurs in the next even-year election cycle occurring at least 61 days after the vacancy.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have resided in Oregon for the three years prior to their joining the court, be a U.S. citizen, and a member of the state bar.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court to serve a six-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at the end of the calendar year in which they turn 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineThe state’s Commission on Judicial Fitness and Disability may recommend discipline against a justice, including removal. (The commission is a nine-person body composed of appointees of the supreme court, state bar, and governor.) The full supreme court examines the recommendation to reach a decision.

Note that Oregon has no impeachment procedure.
RecallJudges are subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Oregon and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Oregon Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

Cases that involve challenges to legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of Oregon’s judicial branch, and has broad authority to govern its operations, including setting a budget, shaping personnel rules, and appointing the head judges of lower courts. 
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the rules that govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Oregon. The court no longer sets uniform bail schedules; it also has no role on the state commission that drafts sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Pennsylvania Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsPennsylvania holds both statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off, and up-or-down retention elections, depending on the circumstances.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a political party, since some of the state’s judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices are Democrats and two are Republicans; one seat has been vacant since the death of a Democratic justice in 2022. The court last flipped, from the GOP to Democrats, in 2015.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtPennsylvania has unusually complex rules for joining the court.

One path is to be appointed by the governor. This happens when a vacancy arises during a justice’s term.

Someone can also join the court through an election. But not all elections allow for that possibility in this state: Outsiders can run for a seat only if there’s no incumbent running, or if the incumbent is an appointed justice who has never yet faced voters. (If any other incumbent is running, the election is a retention race and new candidates cannot run at that time.)

Judicial elections are always held in odd-numbered years.
When a term endsA regular term lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term. If they’ve never yet faced voters, this is a partisan election featuring party primaries followed by a general election. 

If they’ve already faced voters in the past, then it’s a retention election in which they need to obtain a majority to stay on the court.

Note that, if a justice decides to retire at the end of their term, the state organizes an open election in which any eligible candidate can run.
When there is a vacancyWhen a seat is vacant, the governor can nominate a replacement; that nominee must then be confirmed by two-thirds of the state Senate. 

To stay on the court, a new justice must face voters in the next odd-year election cycle taking place at least ten months after their appointment. This is a partisan election in which they may face challengers; the winner only serves the remainder of the interrupted term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, and must have resided in the state for the year immediately preceding joining the court. 
The chief justiceThe longest-serving justice serves as the chief justice.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal; at that point, a separate body called Court of Judicial Discipline examines the matter. (Both bodies are composed of a mix of judges, judicial appointees, and gubernatorial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Pennsylvania and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThis supreme court reviews their decisions of Pennsylvania’s two intermediate appellate courts: The Commonwealth Court, which generally handles government and election law cases, and the Superior Court, which handles criminal cases and other civil cases. 

It also reviews some trial court decisions, as well as the decisions of the Legislative Reapportionment Commission and the Court of Judicial Discipline.
Other paths to hearing a caseMany types of trial court cases are appealed directly to the supreme court. 

Those include decisions by courts of common pleas in cases that involve the right to public office, the qualifications of a judge, death sentences, the supersession of a district attorney by the attorney general; the right of a jurisdiction contracting debt. The same is true of cases where the court of common pleas has struck down as unconstitutional any treaty, constitutional provision, statute, or part of a home rule charter.

In addition, cases that are challenging legislative redistricting start at the supreme court.

The court may also exercise its “King’s Bench power,” an authority that involves addressing a matter that is not even pending in courts. It may also choose to intervene in a case no matter what stage of the judicial process it’s at.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court as a whole supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs, and set the boundaries of magisterial districts (these are home to hyperlocal courts).
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Pennsylvania, from the location of grand juries to the administration of oaths. The court does not set bail schedules. In addition, the chief justice appoints three of the members of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationAlmost none, but if the result in a governor’s election is contested, the chief justice is meant to preside over the trial that would take place in the legislature, and rule on legal questions presented in proceedings.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the four members of the legislative redistricting commission are unable to select a fifth member as they are tasked to do so, that authority is handed to the supreme court. 
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Puerto Rico Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members.

The constitution requires a minimum of five justices, but the legislature can increase the number upon request of the supreme court
Judicial electionsPuerto Rico does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, six of the sitting justices were selected by former Republican Governor Luis Fortuño, and two were selected by Popular Democratic Governor Alejandro García Padilla. One seat is vacant.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court by a governor’s nomination. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the Senate.
When a term endsJustices do not have defined terms and can serve until they are 70.
When there is a vacancyWhen a seat is vacant, the replacement is chosen according to the procedure described above.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the Puerto Rico Bar for the ten years preceding their nomination, a U.S. citizen, and a resident of Puerto Rico for the prior five years.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office by the legislature; the House has the power to impeach, at which point the Senate considers whether to convict, and whether to remove.
RecallJustices are not subject to a recall election.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Puerto Rico and it hears appeals in both criminal and civil cases filed in Puerto Rico’s judicial system. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate Puerto Rico’s constitution. (The U.S. Supreme Court typically does not interfere in how state or territorial courts interpret their own constitutions.)
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews decisions made by the Puerto Rico Court of Appeals. 
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the court system, including through the appointment of an administrative director that handles its day-to-day management.
Making rules for state courtsIt has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court court sets the rules of criminal procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Puerto Rico. It does not set bail schedules, nor play a central role in determining the details of sentencing.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe chief justice chairs of the three-member board that supervises redistricting.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

Rhode Island Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is set in state law.
Judicial electionsRhode Island does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, three were chosen by a Republican governor and two by a Democrat.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nominee must be confirmed by both the Senate and the House in separate votes.

The governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Independent Nonpartisan Judicial Nominating Commission. This is a nine-person body whose members are appointed by the governor, some with input by legislative leaders.
When a term endsA justice is appointed for life. 
Rhode Island is the only state with such an arrangement, which mirrors the federal bench.
When there is a vacancyA vacancy is filled through the procedure outlined above; an appointee never has to face voters. 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA nominee must be licensed to practice law in Rhode Island.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Tenure and Discipline may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a 16-person body composed of a mix of gubernatorial, legislative, and judicial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Rhode Island and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThere is no appellate court in Rhode Island other than the supreme court. This means that the supreme court reviews the decisions of the state’s lower courts (the superior court, family court, district court, and workers’ compensation court).
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice has executive authority over the judicial system. This includes the power to set emergency rules for courts, to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe rules that govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Rhode Island are set by lower courts, but the supreme court approves them. The supreme court also sets bail guidelines, though those do not include bail schedules.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court has the power to issue an advisory opinion on the request of either chamber of the general assembly or the governor.


South Carolina Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsSouth Carolina does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Justices are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. 
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were appointed by GOP-run legislatures and all were men—one of only two high courts in the country with no women on the bench. The court in January 2023 issued a 3 to 2 decision protecting abortion rights under the state constitution, but one of the justices in the majority retired soon after and the new court reversed itself in August 2023.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices are selected to join the court by a joint vote of the state legislature, from a list of candidates put forth by a nominating commission called the Judicial Merit Selection Commission. The commission’s members are themselves appointed by legislative leaders, which increases the legislature’s clout over the process.

In practice, once the commission unveils its list of candidates, the candidates campaign to win support from the legislature. When it seems clear that one candidate has enough votes to win, the other candidates usually drop out.

There is an exception: If a vacancy arises with less than one year left in the term, a new justice is named by the governor and not the legislature. The governor’s choice is not constrained.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they filled a vacancy that interrupted a ten-year term, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new term by going through the same process by which they were appointed: The nominating commission produces a list of nominees, and the legislature chooses among them; neither are bound to select an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, it is filled by the legislature as described above; if the vacancy interrupted a justice’s term, the new justice only serves out the remainder of the unfinished term. 
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 32 years old, a U.S. citizen, a licensed attorney for at least 8 years, and a resident of the state for the five years immediately preceding their selection.
The chief justiceThe legislature selects someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 72. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-thirds majorities.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a large body composed of a majority of judges.)
RecallJustices are not subject to a recall election.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in South Carolina and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the South Carolina Court of Appeals. It also reviews some decisions by the circuit courts and the family courts.
Other paths to hearing a caseSome trial court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court. 

Those include criminal cases that involve a death sentence, cases that set a public utility rate, cases that involve a constitutional challenge to a law or ordinance, cases that involve state or local revenue bonds, cases pertaining to an election and to a person being denied the ability to register to vote, cases regarding limits to a state grand jury investigation, and orders by the family court relating to abortions by minors.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the judicial system; this includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. All rules made by the court are submitted to the judiciary committees of the state legislature; they come into effect unless disapproved by concurrent resolution of the state legislature, which requires a three-fifths vote.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court sets the South Carolina Criminal Rules, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in the state. It does not set bail schedules.

Separately, the chief justice appoints three people (including a supreme court justice) to the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission, which proposes sentencing guidelines to the legislature.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


South Dakota Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The constitution sets the number of justices at five, but allows the legislature to increase the size to seven upon a request by the supreme court.
Judicial electionsSouth Dakota holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court. Unlike in most other states, justices each represent a district.

The legislature draws districts, subject to the governor’s signature, but it is not required to do so after a decennial census; it last did so in 2012. The boundaries in effect as of 2023 can be viewed here.
Partisan statusJudges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s appointment. 

The governor’s choice is constrained to a list of names prepared by a nominating commission, called the Judicial Qualifications Commission. This is a seven-person body whose members are appointed by the governor, state bar, and judicial conference.
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new term by facing a retention election. They must obtain a simple majority to be retained. Retention elections take place in November.
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, the governor names a replacement using the procedure described above. 

After serving three years, the appointed justice faces a retention race at the next even-year cycle; they serve a full eight-year term if they win.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar, a U.S. citizen, and resident of the district from which they are elected or appointed.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsOnce they turn 70, justices must retire at the start of the next odd-numbered year. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Qualifications Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a seven-member body with members appointed by the governor, state bar, and judicial conference.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in South Dakota and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThere is no intermediary appellate court in South Dakota. All circuit court decisions are appealable directly to the supreme court since there is no other appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the court system’s administration; this includes submitting the court system’s budget and temporarily reassigning judges to other courts to address caseloads. The court as a whole is responsible for appointing personnel, including an administrator to manage the judiciary’s day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. These rules can be changed by the legislature
Setting the rules of criminal procedureUnlike in most states, the responsibility for setting the rules of criminal procedure in South Dakota falls on the legislature, not the supreme court. The court also does not set bail schedules.
Election certificationThe chief justice sits on the state’s canvassing board alongside the governor and secretary of state. (Learn more about South Dakota’s process for certifying election results.)
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the other branches fail to pass new legislative maps after the decennial census, the authority to draw the maps transfers to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesThe court, upon request of the governor, can issue advisory opinions regarding the exercise of executive power and some other questions.

The constitution gives the supreme court exclusive authority to determine whether a governor’s “continuous absence from the state” or a governor’s disability constitutes a vacancy.


Tennessee Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsTennessee holds statewide retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan statusJudges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all but one was chosen by a Republican governor. Tennessee governors are less constrained in their choice than those of many other states; the court has moved to the right over the last decade as Democratic appointees who had faced conservative anger have left the court, replaced by conservative picks by GOP governors.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nomination is subject to review by both chambers of the legislature.

The nominee does not need lawmakers to affirmatively approve them, though: If the legislature does not take a vote within 60 days, the nominee is considered to have been approved.

Note that, while justices end up facing statewide officials, geography does matter when they’re selected: In appointing justices, a governor must pay attention to maintaining balanced representations between the three regions known as Tennessee’s grand divisions, which are inscribed into the state constitution though their exact boundaries can be modified via state law. But justices then face voters in statewide elections.
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. (A justice’s initial term is shorter if they are filling a vacancy that interrupted a justice’s term, though.)

At the end of their term, justices can seek a new one in a retention race. They need to obtain a simple majority to be retained.

This election is held during the August primary election, not in November.
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, it is filled through the nomination procedure described above. But terms vary depending on the circumstances.

If the outgoing justice finished their term, then the new justice serves a full term and won’t face voters until eight years after their appointment.

Alternatively, if the vacancy interrupts a justice’s term, then the new justice faces voters much sooner and must run in a retention race in August of the next even-numbered year.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceJustices must be at least 35 years old, a member of the state bar, a resident of Tennessee for at least five years, and a resident of the division they will represent for at least the year prior to their appointment.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can run for.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Board of Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (This board is a large body whose members are appointed by different juridical associations, the supreme court, the governor, and legislative leaders.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Tennessee and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Tennessee Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the state’s other courts. This includes the power to appoint a court administrator to oversee the day-to-day affairs of the judicial system. 
Making rules for state courtsThe court crafts rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The rules must be approved by the legislature to go into effect. 
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Tennessee, from grand jury formation to jury selection. It does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in the details of sentencing policy.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role .
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court appoints the state’s attorney general. It is the only state supreme court with this power. They last exercised it in 2022 to appoint conservative attorney Jonathan Skrmetti.

Texas Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsTexas holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Justices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all members of the court are Republicans.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. They compete in regular party primaries to get a party’s nomination and then face off in the general election.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA regular term lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a judge can seek a new term by running for re-election in a statewide and partisan election. If they retire instead, the election proceeds without an incumbent. 
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement, who serves until the next even-year election cycle; the winner of that election only serves the remainder of the original term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 35 years old, a member of the state bar, a U.S. citizen, and a Texas resident. They must have practiced law or sat on a state or county bench for at least ten years, and they must never have had their law license revoked.
The chief justiceVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s State Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal. (The commission is a 16-person body made up of a mix of appointees of the supreme court and governor.) If the commission recommends the removal of a justice or judge, a tribunal of seven randomly selected appellate court judges decides the matter, and then the supreme court reviews the decision. 
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThe supreme court is the state’s highest court on all civil cases. For instance, cases dealing with redistricting, or litigation over abortion restrictions, would be heard in this court.

The state supreme court does not review criminal cases. That is the province of the state’s other high court, the Court of Criminal Appeals. 
How most cases reach this courtThis court reviews the decisions of the Texas Court of Appeal on civil matters. It also reviews some trial court decisions.
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court decisions regarding the constitutionality of state laws and administrative decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice oversees the administration of the state court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts and to appoint judicial administrators to manage day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court has a very limited role in shaping how criminal cases and investigations are handled, beyond the exercise of regular judicial review on matters that fall under its jurisdiction.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf disputes arise during the state legislative redistricting process, the supreme court has the power to direct the apportionment board’s actions.

Also, the chief justice of this court (alongside the presiding justice of the court of criminal appeals) serves on the Judicial Districts Board, which is the body responsible for reapportioning the state’s judicial districts.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court has the power to remove district court judges for misconduct; this is a process that applies only to discipline for district court judges.


Texas Court of Criminal Appeals


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsTexas holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan statusJustices may be affiliated to a party, since judicial elections are partisan.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all members of the court are Republicans.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a judge joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. They compete in regular party primaries to get a party’s nomination and then face off in the general election.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA regular term lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, a judge can seek a new term by running for re-election in a statewide and partisan election. If they retire instead, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement, who serves until the next even-year election cycle; the winner of that election only serves the remainder of the original term.
Minimum qualifications for a new judgeA new judge must be at least 35 years old, a member of the state bar, a U.S. citizen, and a Texas resident. They must have practiced law or sat on a state or county bench for at least ten years, and they must never have had their law license revoked.
The head judgeVoters, or the governor, select someone to occupy the presiding judge’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure called removal by address to remove judges without the formalities of an impeachment trial.

Third, the state’s State Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal. (The commission is a 16-person body made up of a mix of appointees of the supreme court and governor.) If the commission recommends the removal of a judge, a tribunal of seven randomly selected appellate court judges decides the matter, and then the supreme court reviews the decision.
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThe Court of Criminal Appeals is one of Texas’ two high courts, alongside the Texas Supreme Court. 

It has the ultimate authority over criminal cases. (This means that its decisions are not appealed to the state’s supreme court.)
This court hears only criminal cases.
How most cases reach this courtThis court reviews decisions made by the intermediate appellate courts, known as the Texas Courts of Appeals, that deal with criminal cases. 
Other paths to hearing a caseCases where a death penalty has been imposed are appealed directly from the district court to the Court of Criminal Appeals. This high court may also agree to directly take up other trial court decisions before they’ve been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe bulk of this power is held by the state supreme court, the other high court in this state.
Making rules for state courtsThe Court of Criminal Appeals has limited rulemaking power.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court can set some procedures that affect criminal cases, such as appellate procedures, but the rules of criminal procedure that shape many details of how criminal cases are handled are set by the legislature.
Election certificationThe judges have no defined role in the process of certifying election results.
Ballot initiativesThe judges have no role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleThe judges have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe presiding judge of this court (alongside the chief justice of the supreme court) serves on the Judicial Districts Board, which is the body responsible for reapportioning the state’s judicial districts.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Utah Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The constitution requires that the court consist of at least five justices, but the legislature may create more.
Judicial electionsUtah holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor and confirmed by a Republican-run legislature.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. 
The governor’s choice is constrained to a list of three names prepared by a nominating commission, which is a body of seven members who are all appointed by the governor. (Utah reformed its commission in 2023 to give governors far greater control over the membership of this commission, and therefore more influence over who makes it on the supreme court; until this reform, the state bar had a larger role in deciding who sat on the commission.)

In addition, the nominee must be confirmed by the state Senate within 60 days of a nomination; if the chamber does nothing, it’s equivalent to a rejection and a new process must start.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter, though.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one by facing a retention election. The race is scheduled for November, and they must obtain a simple majority to be retained.
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, the governor chooses a replacement under the process described above. 

The new justice serves for three years, then faces a retention race at the next even-year election cycle to secure a full term. Importantly, this is the case even if the outgoing justice had less than three years left on the court.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be at least 30 years old, a member of the state bar, and a U.S. citizen. They must have also resided in the state for the five years preceding their selection.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the full court for a four-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-thirds majorities.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a body that includes lawmakers, and judicial and gubernatorial appointees.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Utah and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Utah Court of Appeals. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

The supreme court also has the authority to review decisions made by many state agencies, including the Public Service Commission, the State Tax Commission, and several agencies that are dealing with environmental matters like natural resources and water rights.
Other paths to hearing a caseDistrict court decisions that declare a statute unconstitutional, first-degree felony or capital convictions, and cases involving legislative subpoenas, are appealed directly to the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as the court system’s “chief administrative officer,” though in practice the supreme court designates an administrator to handle day-to-day affairs. The chief justice also presides over the judicial council, which adopts the system’s administrative rules.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The legislature can amend the rules through a two-thirds vote.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Utah, from what happens in an arraignment to jury selection. It does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in the details of sentencing policy.

Separately, the chief justice appoints four members to the Utah Sentencing Commission, which sets sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesThe supreme court has the power to appoint a special prosecutor if it decides that a sitting prosecutor is refusing to act on a case when they should.

When prompted by another state official, the supreme court considers whether the governor or lieutenant governor is unable to perform the duties of their office.


Vermont Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsVermont does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four of the five sitting justices were nominated to the court by a Republican governor. But all four were also confirmed by a Democratic-run legislature, and three were earlier named to lower courts by Democratic governors. Inversely, the only sitting justice who was nominated to the supreme court by a Democratic governor had earlier been named to a lower-court judgeship by a Republican governor.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s nomination. The nomination is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

In addition, the governor’s choice is constrained to a slate of names prepared by a nomination commission, called the Judicial Nominating Board, which is a mix of gubernatorial appointees, lawmakers, and state bar members.
When a term endsA term on the court lasts six years.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one and submit a  request for  renewal to the Senate for approval. (There are no judicial elections.) 

Uniquely, all justices’ terms expire at the same time in Vermont, which on paper creates a potential for extreme upheaval every six years. All the justices were retained for new terms on March 31, 2023.
When there is a vacancyA vacancy is filled through the procedure described above. A new justice serves out the remainder of the original term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for at least ten years, including the five years immediately preceding their application, and must reside in Vermont.
The chief justiceThe governor nominates someone to occupy the chief justice’s seat, using the same procedure as for any of the other seats.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 90. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them. Both chambers need two-thirds majorities.

Second, the state’s Judicial Conduct Board may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (This board is a nine-person body that includes multiple lower court judges.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Vermont and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtVermont has no intermediate appellate court. As such, the supreme court reviews the trial court decisions (in Vermont, the trial court is known as the Superior Court), as well as the decisions of administrative agencies, boards, and commissions.
Other paths to hearing a caseAny defendant held without bail is entitled to have their denial of bail reviewed by a single justice of the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the state’s court system, which includes appointing a court administrator to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. The legislature can revise those rules.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Vermont, from the venue of a trial to the exercise of peremptory challenges. It does not set bail schedules.

Separately, the chief justice has sat on a Sentencing Commission that makes recommendations for sentencing policy but does not set guidelines, but the commission is now being abolished.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the other branches fail to pass new legislative maps after the decennial census, the authority to draw the maps transfers to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.

Virginia Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.

The constitution sets seven justices as a default, but the legislature may increase the number by a three-fifths vote at two successive regular sessions to a maximum of 11 justices.
Judicial electionsVirginia does not hold supreme court elections.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.

And it’s tricky to look for proxies in who nominated the sitting justices: As of August 2023, most were either selected during periods of divided government, or else were selected unanimously by the legislature.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices are selected by the legislature. Justices must receive a majority of the vote in each chamber to win. 

If the legislature is not in session when a vacancy arises, the governor makes a temporary appointment until the legislature comes back into session and considers the matter.
When a term endsA term on the court lasts 12 years.

At the end of their term, a justice can ask the legislature for a new term; the legislature has liberty to re-appoint the justice, or pick someone else.
When there is a vacancyIf a vacancy arises during a justice’s term, it is also filled through the procedure described above. A justice can serve a full term even if they replace a justice who had only a few years remaining in their term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a resident of Virginia, and have been a member of the state bar for the five years preceding their appointment.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by the court’s members for a four-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 73. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (This is a body whose members are elected by the legislature.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Virginia and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Virginia Court of Appeals. It also reviews those of the Virginia Corporation Commission.
Other paths to hearing a caseThe supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe chief justice supervises the administration of the court system, which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts. The supreme court appoints an executive secretary, who supervises the day-to-day affairs of the judiciary branch.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. 
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Supreme Court of Virginia, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Virginia, from arraignment procedures to writ petitions. It does not set bail schedules.

Separately, the chief justice appoints seven people to the Virginia Criminal Sentencing Commission, which writes sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the regular redistricting process fails to pass new legislative and congressional maps after the decennial census, the authority to draw the maps transfers to the supreme court. 

A 2020 constitutional amendment created an independent redistricting commission that draws maps and submits them to the legislature for approval. In 2021, the commission failed to submit maps to the legislature, and the supreme court ended up adopting new congressional and legislative maps that were drawn by special masters. 
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Washington Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members

The constitution sets five justices as a default but allows the legislature to increase the number.
Judicial electionsWashington holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionEven though the state has an election system for new members, as of August 2023 most of the sitting justices first joined the court through the appointment of a Democratic governor. And in this state, governors face no constraints on their choice. The court has the reputation of having moved left under Democratic Governor Jay Inslee’s appointments.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. Elections are held in a non-partisan manner. All candidates run in a primary, and the top two advance to a general election unless someone receives more than 50 percent in the primary.

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy. 
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts six years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though; the winner of a special election may also serve a shorter term.

At the end of their term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire instead, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor names a replacement. The governor’s selection is not subject to legislative confirmation.
The new justice serves until the next even-year election cycle; the winner of that special election only serves out the remainder of the interrupted term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must be a member of the state bar.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by the court’s members for a four-year term. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 75. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is made up of appointees of the governor and state bar, and of judges)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Washington and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Washington Court of Appeals. It may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.
Other paths to hearing a caseTrial court decisions are appealed directly to the supreme court if they hold a statute or ordinance to be unconstitutional, or if they involve actions against state officers or a conflict among the geographic divisions of the state’s court of appeals, or if they touch on criminal cases that involve a death sentence.

Also, cases that involve challenges to redistricting start at the supreme court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe court oversees the operations of the entire state court system by supervising the administrative office that handles its day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by. Importantly, the rules can displace conflicting laws passed by the legislature.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Superior Court Criminal Rules, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Washington. It also sets a statewide bail schedule. But sentencing manuals are set by a body called the Washington Caseload Forecast Council, which the supreme court has no role in.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingIf the other branches fail to pass new legislative and congressional maps after the decennial census, the power to do so transfers to the supreme court.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has nine members.

This size is set in the D.C. Code.
Judicial electionsWashington, D.C., does not hold elections for this court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, six active judges on this court were appointed by Democratic presidents, and two by Republican presidents, with one seat vacant.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a judge joins this courtAll judges are nominated by the U.S. President and confirmed by the U.S. Senate.
When a term endsA term on the court lasts 15 years.

At the end of their term, a judge can seek a new term through the same process as their initial appointment, which means they would have to be chosen by the U.S. president and confirmed by the Senate. 
When there is a vacancyAny vacancy is filled through the procedure described above. A new judge serves a 15-year term even if they’ve been appointed to fill an unexpired term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new judge must be a member of the state bar for at least five years, a U.S. citizen, a practicing attorney, judge or law professor within five of the ten years preceding their appointment, and a resident of either Washington, D.C. or the neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia.
The head judge’s seatThe U.S. president designates the chief judge, among all of the court’s active judges, to serve a four-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 74, though they can take senior status and retain a role on the court. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJudges are subject to removal by the District of Columbia Commission on Judicial Disabilities and Tenure; this is a five-person body in city government whose members are appointed by the U.S. president, the D.C. mayor, and the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. A removed judge can appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice. The Commission consists of 5 members:
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in D.C. and it hears appeals in both criminal and civil cases filed in the D.C. system. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 
How most cases reach this courtThere is no intermediate appellate court in D.C., so trial courts decisions can be appealed directly to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Besides trial court decisions, the Court of Appeals also reviews administrative orders issued by the city’s agencies and municipal government.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe court has limited administrative duties because the task of supervising the court system’s administration is in the hands of the Joint Committee on Judicial Administration in the District of Columbia, a city body that includes many lower-court D.C. judges. The chief judge of the court of appeals does sit on that committee. 

Also, the chief judge also oversees the judicial conference of all D.C. judges, which recommends procedural changes.
Making rules for state courtsThe court has limited rulemaking power.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThis court is tasked with approving the rules of criminal procedure proposed by the district’s Superior Court.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


West Virginia Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has five members.

The size of the court is set in the state constitution.
Judicial electionsWest Virginia holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, three of the five sitting justices were appointed by Republican Governor Jim Justice, and a fourth has been affiliated with the Republican Party. Heading into 2018, the court was majority Democratic (judges used to be elected in partisan races) but the majority of the court resigned after being targeted in an unusual mass impeachment by the Republican-run legislature, which Democrats decried as a partisan power grab.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Elections are held in an unusual one-round, nonpartisan system: All candidates run in the statewide primary election, and the candidate receiving the most votes wins. 

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts 12 years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though. The winner of a special election may also serve a shorter term.

After finishing their term, a justice can seek a new one by running for re-election. If they retire instead, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen there is a vacancy, the governor names a replacement and also calls a special election to fill the remainder of the term. The special election is scheduled for the next primary election, occurring at least 84 days after the vacancy, in an even-numbered year. 

A major exception to this process: If there were less than three years remaining in the term, the appointee serves out the remainder of the term and there is no special election.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for the ten years prior to their joining the court.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by the members of the court. 

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can seek.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. 

First, the legislature may impeach and remove them from office. In 2018, the West Virginia House impeached all sitting justices in an extraordinarily rare event. One justice resigned before the House vote and two resigned before a Senate trial, while the final two ended up staying on the court. 

Second, the state’s Judicial Investigation Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (All of the commission’s members are appointed by the supreme court.)
RecallJudges are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in West Virginia and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews decisions made by the West Virginia Intermediate Court of Appeals. 

But the Intermediate Court of Appeals has no jurisdiction over criminal cases, so trial court decisions on those are appealed directly to the supreme court. The supreme court also hears appeals of family court decisions.
Other paths to hear a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe constitution designates the chief justice as the court system’s “administrative head,” which includes the power to temporarily reassign judges to different courts, and to appoint an administrative director to handle day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in West Virginia. It does not set bail schedules, nor does it play a central role in sentencing guidelines.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Wisconsin Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThis court has seven members.
Judicial electionsWisconsin holds statewide elections where multiple candidates can face off.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection. In practice, though, Wisconsin’s judicial elections are heavily polarized by party, and party infrastractures are involved in these races.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, four justices belong to the court’s liberal wing, and three to its conservative wing. The court flipped left in 2023 for the first time in 15 years.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtThe regular path for someone to join the court is a statewide election. When a seat is up, any qualified candidate can run whether or not there is an incumbent. 

Elections are held in a nonpartisan manner. All candidates run in a primary, and the top two candidates move on to a general election. (If there are only two candidates, no primary election is held.) These elections are always held in the state’s spring cycle, never in November—a timing that can pose turnout challenges

Judges can also first make it onto the court through a gubernatorial appointment if they’re filling a vacancy.
When a term endsA full term on this court lasts ten years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they have been appointed, though.

At the end of their term, the judge may seek a new term by running for re-election. If they retire instead, the election proceeds without an incumbent.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy arises, the governor names a replacement. This selection is not subject to legislative approval.

If a vacancy occurs on the court on or before Dec. 1, a special election is held in the following spring’s election. If it occurs after Dec. 1, the seat would only be up a year later.

But in an unusual rule specific to Wisconsin, there can be no more than one supreme court seat on the ballot in a given year. This means that a new justice may end up serving longer if there are already elections scheduled for a given spring, or if there are multiple vacancies.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have been a member of the state bar for five years.
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the court to serve a two-year term.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices face no mandatory retirement age. And there is no limit to how many terms a justice can seek.

Note that, since 1977, the state constitution allows the legislature to set a mandatory retirement age of at least 70, which the legislature has never done; there was controversy over a 2015 proposal to do so.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in three ways. First, the Assembly may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may remove them by a two-thirds vote. No Wisconsin judge has been impeached since 1853, but the GOP has floated doing so in 2023.

Second, the legislature may use a procedure known as removal by address. This is meant to apply to more circumstances than impeachment, but requires a higher threshold in the Assembly.

Third, the state’s Judicial Commission may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission is a nine-person body whose members are appointed by the state bar, supreme court, and court system.)
RecallJustices are subject to a recall election.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Wisconsin and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtThe supreme court reviews the decisions of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
Other paths to hearing a caseWisconsin’s constitution says that litigants may choose to file certain cases directly with the state supreme court, skipping lower courts. It’s up to the supreme court to take the case, and  since the 1870s, the court has said that this procedure applies to cases that deal with “the sovereignty of the state, its franchises or prerogatives, or the liberties of its people.” This is a broad designation, for instance used to expedite redistricting litigation in 2021. In 2023, a liberal group filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s maps as a gerrymander using this procedure.

The supreme court may also agree to directly take up a trial court’s decision, before it has been reviewed by the intermediate appellate court.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court is tasked with hiring a director of state courts, who handles the court system’s operations and supervises budgeting and hiring. When liberal justices gained an edge on the court in the summer of 2023, for instance, the new majority immediately ousted the administrative director

The supreme court also appoints a chief judge in each judicial administrative district.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureUnlike in most states, the responsibility for setting the rules of criminal procedure in Wisconsin falls on the legislature, not the supreme court. The court does set bail schedules for certain charges, like traffic and wildlife offenses.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in an initiative process.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.


Wyoming Supreme Court


1. The big picture 

Size of the courtThe court has five members.

The constitution sets a range of three to five justices for the supreme court; the number is set in state law.
Judicial electionsWyoming holds retention elections once a justice is already on the court.
Partisan status Judges are not formally affiliated to parties as part of their selection.
Current compositionAs of August 2023, all sitting justices were chosen by a Republican governor. This is an imperfect proxy since Wyoming governors are comparatively constrained in who they choose.

2. Paths to sitting on this court 

How a justice joins this courtAll justices make it on the court through a governor’s appointment, which is not subject to legislative approval. 

But the governor’s choice is constrained to a list of three names prepared by a nominating commission, which includes a supreme court justice and appointees of the governor and state bar.
When a term endsA regular term lasts eight years. A justice’s initial term is shorter if they are filling a vacancy that arose during a judge’s term, though.

At the end of their term, a justice may seek a new one through a retention election. They must obtain a simple majority of the vote to be retained.
When there is a vacancyWhen a vacancy occurs during a justice’s term, the governor names a replacement following the procedure described above. The new justice serves until the next even-year general election cycle, at which point they face a retention election for the remainder of the term.
Minimum qualifications for a new justiceA new justice must have resided in Wyoming for at least three years, be a U.S. citizen, and have worked as either a practicing attorney or a judge for a combined nine years. The constitution also stipulates that a justice must be “learned in the law.”
The chief justiceThe chief justice is selected by a majority of the full court.

3. Mandatory retirement and removal

Term limitsJustices must retire at age 70. There are no limits on how many terms a justice may serve.
DisciplineJustices, like other state judges, may be removed from office in two ways. First, the House may impeach a justice, at which point the Senate may convict and remove them on a two-thirds vote.

Second, the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct and Ethics may recommend discipline, including removal, at which point the full supreme court examines the matter. (The commission’s members are appointed by the state bar, governor, and the court system.)
RecallJustices are not subject to recall elections.

4. The court’s judicial powers

The court’s appellate jurisdictionThis is the highest court in Wyoming and it hears appeals in state criminal and civil cases. (The only court to which its decisions can be appealed is the U.S. Supreme Court, which hears very few cases.) 

Among many other cases, the court has final say on lawsuits that allege that state statutes and laws (from abortion restrictions to voting rules) violate the state constitution. 
How most cases reach this courtWyoming has no intermediate appellate court; the supreme court reviews the decisions made by the state’s lower courts, the district courts and the chancery court.
Other paths to hearing a caseN/A.

5. The court’s policymaking and administrative powers

Administering the judicial systemThe supreme court supervises the administration of all state courts, which includes the appointment of a state court administrator to lead the judiciary’s administrative office and manage day-to-day affairs.
Making rules for state courtsThe supreme court has the power to make rules regarding the practices and procedures that courts and lawyers must abide by.
Setting the rules of criminal procedureThe supreme court writes the Rules of Criminal Procedure, which govern how criminal cases and investigations are handled in Wyoming, from jury selection to the use of interpreters. It also adopts a bail schedule.
Election certificationJustices have no defined role in the process of certifying election results, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
Ballot initiativesJustices have no defined role in a ballot initiative process, beyond their usual appellate role reviewing legal challenges.
RedistrictingThe court has no role in the redistricting process, beyond their usual role of reviewing maps drawn by others.
Pardons and paroleJustices have no defined role in granting pardons and parole.
Other noteworthy rolesN/A.