Judicial selection in Delaware

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in Delaware
Seal of Delaware.png
Delaware Supreme Court
Method:   Assisted appointment, legislative confirmation
Term:   12 years
Superior Court of Delaware
Method:   Assisted appointment, legislative confirmation
Term:   12 years
Delaware Court of Chancery
Method:   Assisted appointment, legislative confirmation
Term:   12 years
Delaware Family Court
Method:   Assisted appointment, legislative confirmation
Term:   12 years
Delaware Court of Common Pleas
Method:   Assisted appointment, legislative confirmation
Term:   12 years

Selection of the state court judges in Delaware relies on a variation of the Missouri Plan, or the assisted appointment method. (Only the alderman's court does not employ this method. Learn more in the Limited jurisdiction courts section below).[1][2]

Supreme, Superior and Chancery Court

See also: Assisted appointment

There are five justices on the Delaware Supreme Court, 20 judges on the Superior Court of Delaware and five members of the Delaware Court of Chancery (one chancellor, four vice-chancellors). These judges are selected by a commission-selection, political appointment method whereby a judicial nominating commission screens candidates and submits at least three names to the governor. The governor may decline to appoint someone from this list and instead request a supplemental list, but ultimately a name from one of these lists must be submitted to the Delaware Senate.[3]

Approved nominees serve for 12 years, at which point they must apply to the commission for reappointment. The commission must recommend sitting judges for reappointment unless two thirds or more of the committee object.[3]

Reappointed judges also serve 12-year terms. Delaware is relatively unique in that appointees' initial terms are no shorter than their subsequent ones.[1]


To serve on any of these three courts, a judge must be:

  • a state resident;
  • "learned in the law;" and
  • a state bar member.[1]

The Delaware Constitution also states that no more than the bare majority of judges on a given court may be of the same political party. The judicial nominating commission will not nominate a candidate if his or her political party causes that statute to be violated.[1]

Selection of the chief judge or justice

The process for selecting a chief judge or justice for the supreme, superior and chancery courts is identical to the process used to select associate judges. The governor chooses an appointee from a list compiled by the judicial nominating commission, and if the senate gives consent the appointee will serve a 12-year term as chief.[1]


If a midterm vacancy occurs on one of the three courts, the seat is filled as it normally would be if the vacancy occurred at the end of a judge's term. A judicial nominating commission recommends qualified candidates to the governor, and the governor selects a successor from that list with senate approval. The new appointee serves a 12-year term.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

Delaware's limited jurisdiction courts (family court, justice of the peace court, court of common pleas and alderman's court) vary in their selection processes:[2]

Family Court Justice of the Peace Court Court of Common Pleas Alderman's Court
Selection: Commission-selection, governor appointment with senate consent Selection by magistrate screening committee, governor appointment with senate consent Commission-selection, governor appointment with senate consent Appointment by the mayor or city governing body
Term: Initial five-year term, subsequent six-year terms[4] Initial five-year term, subsequent six-year terms[5] Initial five-year term, subsequent six-year terms[5] Varies[5]
Re-election method: Reappointment Reappointment Reappointment Varies
Qualifications: Local resident; state resident for five years; law degree; in-state law practice for five years Local and state resident Local and state resident; law degree; in-state law practice for five years; state citizen Varies

Judicial nominating commission

In 1977, Delaware (via Governor Pierre S. du Pont IV) established a judicial nominating commission to screen, evaluate and recommend qualified candidates for judicial appointments.[6] This commission assists in selecting judges for the supreme, superior, chancery, family and common pleas courts. A separate committee exists to screen magistrates for the justice of the peace courts.[3]

The commission is made up of eleven members, ten of which are appointed by the governor (including at least four lawyers and at least four non-lawyers). The president of the Delaware State Bar Association nominates the eleventh member, who is added to the commission with the governor's approval. The governor designates the commission's chairperson.[3]

Commissioners serve staggered three-year terms, after which they may be reappointed by the governor. No more than six members (a "bare majority") may belong to the same political party at the time of their appointment.[3]


Judicial selection methods in Delaware have undergone several changes in the last 200 years, most of which occurred before the 20th century.[6] Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest.

  • 1977: A judicial nominating commission was established by Executive Order Number 4. Each governor since that time has given orders maintaining a similar commission.
  • 1951: The Delaware Supreme Court was created by constitutional amendment.
  • 1897: Judges of all courts are to be appointed by the governor with senate confirmation. Tenure was changed from "good behavior" to twelve-year terms.
  • 1831: Established that judges of all courts are appointed by the governor to serve for life.
  • 1792: Established that judges of all courts are appointed by the governor to serve for life, except for justices of the peace who are appointed to seven-year terms.
  • 1776: The court of appeals was established to be the court of last resort and composed of seven justices. Each legislative house is to appoint three justices, and the "president," elected by the general assembly, presides over the court. Except for the president, all justices serve for life. Court of common pleas judges are to be appointed by the president and the general assembly by joint ballot measures.[6]

Selection of federal judges

United States district court judges, who are selected from each state, go through a different selection process than that of state judges.

The district courts are served by Article III federal judges who are appointed for life, during "good behavior." They are usually first recommended by senators (or members of the House, occasionally). The President of the United States of America nominates judges, who must then be confirmed by the United States Senate in accordance with Article III of the United States Constitution.[7]

Step ApprovedA Candidacy Proceeds DefeatedD Candidacy Halts
1. Recommendation made by Congress member to the President President nominates to Senate Judiciary Committee President declines nomination
2. Senate Judiciary Committee interviews candidate Sends candidate to Senate for confirmation Returns candidate to President, who may re-nominate to committee
3. Senate votes on candidate confirmation Candidate becomes federal judge Candidate does not receive judgeship

See also

External links


DelawareDelaware Supreme CourtSuperior Court of DelawareDelaware Court of ChanceryDelaware Family CourtDelaware Court of Common PleasDelaware Justice of the Peace CourtsDelaware Alderman's CourtsUnited States District Court for the District of DelawareUnited States Court of Appeals for the Third CircuitDelaware countiesDelaware judicial newsDelaware judicial electionsJudicial selection in DelawareDelawareTemplatewithoutBankruptcy.jpg