California judicial elections

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The California judicial elections occur through the retention election of appellate judges and the nonpartisan election of Superior Court judges. Judicial elections occur in California in even-numbered years, though retention elections of appellate judges only occur every four years during gubernatorial elections.[1]

Supreme Court Courts of Appeal Superior Courts
Retention elections - 12 year terms Retention elections - 12 year terms Nonpartisan elections - Six-year terms

Primary election

Only candidates for the superior courts compete in primary elections.

  • If a superior court judge runs unopposed for re-election, his or her name does not appear on the ballot and he or she is automatically re-elected following the general election.[2][3]
  • Write-in candidates may file to run against an incumbent within 10 days after the filing deadline passes, if they are able to secure enough signatures (between 100 and 600, depending on the number of registered voters in the county). In that case, the incumbent would appear on the general election ballot along with an option to vote for a write-in candidate.[3]
  • In contested races, the candidate who receives a majority of all the votes in the primary wins the election. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the primary, the top two compete in the November general election.[4]

General election

  • Appellate judges stand for retention in the general election[5]
  • Superior court candidates that advanced from the primary election compete in the general election.
  • Superior court incumbents facing competition from write-in candidates appear on the ballot.[3][4]


Justices of the California Supreme Court and California Courts of Appeal face retention to 12-year terms in the gubernatorial elections, which are held every four years in November. In these elections, justices do not compete against another candidate, but voters are given a "yes" or "no" choice whether to keep the justice in office for another term. The justice must receive a majority of "yes" votes to remain in office. If an appellate justice is appointed, he or she must face retention at the next gubernatorial election. Otherwise, justices face retention at the end of their terms. If a justice is not retained, the governor appoints a replacement who must run for retention in 4 years at the next gubernatorial election.[5][6]

Justices are typically retained. Since the state started its system of retention elections in 1934, the only year that any supreme court justice was not retained was 1986. That year, three justices were ousted from the bench. Rulings against the death penalty, particularly by Chief Justice Rose Bird, were cited as the primary factor.[7][8][9] According to the Indiana Law Review, this was the first time that a justice of any state high court lost a retention election.[10] Online election results for the courts of appeal go back to 1990 and show that none of those justices have been defeated in a retention election since that year.[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21]


Statewide results are posted on the Secretary of State website. County results are found on county Board of Elections websites and candidate lists can be found on the county Registrar of Voters (ROV) websites.



Superior Court judges serve six-year terms that begin on the Monday following January 1 after their election.[22]


The fees for filing declarations of candidacy:

For current judicial salaries, see: California salaries and budgets


See also

External links


  1. California Secretary of State, "Justices of the supreme and appellate courts," accessed April 7, 2014
  2. Los Angeles Times, "Safeguarding California's judicial election process," August 21, 2011
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 California Elections Code, "Section 8203," accessed April 22, 2014
  4. 4.0 4.1 California Elections Code, "Section 8140-8150," accessed April 22, 2014
  5. 5.0 5.1 American Judicature Society, "Methods of Judicial Selection: California," archived October 2, 2014
  6. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named appellate
  7. Santa Clara Law Review (Volume 28, No. 2), "California Judicial Retention Elections" by Gerald F. Uelmen," 1988
  8. American Judicature Society, "Judicial Selection in the States: California; Overview," archived January 11, 2014
  9. The California Supreme Court Historical Society, "The Rise and Fall of Rose Bird," 2007
  10. Robert H. McKinney School of Law - Indiana Law Review, "Judicial Retention Elections After 2010," accessed April 29, 2014
  11. California Secretary of State, "Election Results," 2006
  12. California Secretary of State, "Election Results," 2002
  13. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Supreme Court," 1998
  14. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 1," 1998
  15. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 2," 1998
  16. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 3," 1998
  17. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 4," 1998
  18. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 5," 1998
  19. California Secretary of State, "Election Results - Court of Appeals 6," 1998
  20. California Secretary of State, "Election Results," 1994
  21. California Secretary of State, "Election Results," 1990
  22. California Constitution#Section 16
  23. California Elections Code, "Section 8100-8107," accessed April 22, 2014
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