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Judicial selection in West Virginia

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Judicial selection in the states
Judicial selection in West Virginia
Flag of West Virginia.svg
Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   12 years
West Virginia Circuit Court
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   8 years
West Virginia Family Courts
Method:   Partisan elections
Term:   6 years initially, 8 years subsequent
West Virginia Magistrate Courts
Method:   Partisan election of judges
Term:   4 years

Selection of state court judges in West Virginia currently occurs through partisan elections. At the end of each judge's term, he or she must run for re-election to continue serving.[1]

Under the West Virginia Constitution, judges' terms begin on January 1 following their election.[2]

In February 2015, both houses of the West Virginia State Legislature passed a bill to make judicial elections nonpartisan. The measure, pending the signature of Governor Earl Ray Tomblin, would apply to judges of all court levels beginning in 2016.[3] Visit the News section below to read more.

Supreme Court and Circuit Court

See also: Partisan election of judges

The judges of the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals and West Virginia Circuit Court are selected in an identical manner to serve 12-year and eight-year terms, respectively. They are chosen by the people in partisan elections and must run for re-election when their terms expire.[1]

For more information on these elections, which occur every two years and include partisan primaries, visit the West Virginia judicial elections page.

Selection of the chief justice or judge

The chief justice of the supreme court of appeals is selected by peer vote to serve for one year. The chief judge of each circuit court is also selected by peer vote, but term lengths vary by circuit.[1]


To serve on the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, a judge must be:

  • a citizen of West Virginia for at least 5 years;
  • at least 30 years old; and
  • practiced in law for at least 10 years.[1]

To serve on a West Virginia Circuit Court, a judge must be:

  • a citizen of West Virginia for at least 5 years;
  • a resident of his or her circuit;
  • at least 30 years old; and
  • practiced in law for at least 5 years.[1]


In the event of a midterm vacancy, the governor appoints a replacement from a list of two to five qualified applicants submitted by a nominating commission.[4] The appointee serves until the next general election, at which point he or she may compete to fill the remainder of the unexpired term.[1]

Limited jurisdiction courts

West Virginia's limited jurisdiction courts (the family court, magistrate courts and municipal courts) vary in their selection processes and qualifications:[5]

Family Court Magistrate Court Municipal Court
Selection: Partisan elections Partisan elections Varies by municipality
Term: Initial term 6 years; subsequent terms 8 years[6] 4 years[7] Varies by municipality
Re-election method: Re-election Re-election Varies by municipality
Qualifications: State citizen; circuit resident; at least 30 years old; at least 5 years of in-state law practice County resident; at least 21 years old; high school degree or equivalent; do not need to be lawyers, but must complete course in rudimentary principles of law and procedure Do not need to be lawyers, but must complete course in rudimentary principles of law and procedure


Judicial elections to be made nonpartisan

Since West Virginia became a state in 1863, its judges have been chosen by the people in partisan elections. But a new bill that cleared both the Senate and House of Delegates in February is expected to change that, calling instead for nonpartisan elections across all courts beginning in 2016.[3][8]

Supporters of the bill argued that partisan elections leave the judiciary vulnerable to the influence of politics and money, while opponents claimed that the heart of the problem—excessive campaign donations from lobbyists and interest groups—was not adequately address by the proposal.[3][8]

Candidate spending in judicial elections both at the Supreme Court and intermediate appellate levels has skyrocketed. Interest groups and political parties, recognizing the extreme importance of electing judges who support their views, are becoming more active.[9]

—Matthew Streb, Chair of the Northern Illinois Department of Political Science[8]

House Bill 2010 was amended by the Senate to correct and clarify some of the language. It was sent back to the House and approved 89-7 without additional discussion, and it is now awaiting approval by Governor Earl Ray Tomblin.[3]

If the bill is signed into law, West Virginia would join the 18 other states that currently use nonpartisan judicial elections at all levels.[8]

Public financing for elections

In 2009, the West Virginia State Legislature established the Public Campaign Financing Pilot Program for elections to the supreme court of appeals. The program, first used in 2012, was created by Senate Bill 311. The goals of publicly financed elections include reducing the amount of outside dollars in a race, attracting a larger number of qualified candidates to run and eliminating the appearance of impropriety.[10][11]

In March 2011, the Senate Finance Committee killed a measure that would have almost doubled the amount of money dedicated to the program.[10] Though the amount available to candidates was smaller than expected, the program commenced in 2012.[11]

To qualify, candidates must first raise $35,000 to 50,000 from more than 500 West Virginia voters. This provision is designed to gauge the seriousness of candidates and root out any non-viable contenders. If a candidate raises that amount, she or he can receive up to $200,000 for a contested primary race and up to $350,000 for the general election. (These amounts could vary based on fundraising prior to receiving public funds and the amount left over after the early contest.)[12]


Selection methods in West Virginia have undergone several changes since the inception of the judiciary. Below is a timeline noting the various stages, from the most recent to the earliest:

  • 2010: A public campaign financing pilot program is created for the 2012 supreme court of appeals elections. (See above.) A judicial vacancy advisory commission is also created to assist the governor in filling midterm vacancies.
  • 2000: The West Virginia Family Courts are created, effective 2002.
  • 1974: The Judicial Reorganization Amendment is ratified by voters, establishing a unified court system that combines all state courts except municipal courts. The system is to be supervised and administered by the supreme court of appeals.
  • 1872: Term length of circuit court judges is increased from six years to eight years.
  • 1862: Per the original state constitution, supreme court of appeals judges are elected by popular vote to twelve-year terms. Circuit court judges are elected to six-year terms.[13]

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.[14]

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


West VirginiaSupreme Court of Appeals of West VirginiaWest Virginia Circuit CourtsWest Virginia Family CourtsWest Virginia Magistrate CourtsWest Virginia Municipal CourtsUnited States District Court for the Northern District of West VirginiaUnited States District Court for the Southern District of West VirginiaUnited States bankruptcy court, Northern District of West VirginiaUnited States bankruptcy court, Southern District of West VirginiaUnited States Court of Appeals for the Fourth CircuitWest Virginia countiesWest Virginia judicial newsWest Virginia judicial electionsJudicial selection in West VirginiaWestVirginiaTemplate.jpg