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State of California

History of Reform Efforts: California

Formal Changes Since Inception

Judges of the supreme court and district court elected by the people to six-year terms.

Tenure for supreme court justices increased to ten years.

Tenure for supreme court justices increased to twelve years.

Court of appeals created.

Legislature established nonpartisan elections for judges.

Constitution amended to provide for nonpartisan judicial elections.

Voters approved an initiative measure that altered the selection process for appellate judges. Appellate judges would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the commission on qualifications (renamed the commission on judicial appointments in 1980) and would stand for retention every twelve years. The amendment allowed counties to adopt an appointive system for trial court judges by majority vote. In the same election, voters rejected a measure calling for merit selection and retention of superior court judges in counties with populations greater than 1.5 million.

Commission on judicial performance established by voter initiative.

Legislature adopted a requirement that the backgrounds and qualifications of all prospective judicial appointees be reviewed by the State Bar of California's commission on judicial nominees evaluation.

Voters approved a constitutional amendment (Proposition 49) barring political parties from endorsing, supporting, or opposing candidates in elections for nonpartisan offices. The provision was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Geary v. Renne, 911 F.2d 280 (9th Cir. 1990)(en banc), but the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case as not ripe for review. The provision was again declared unconstitutional by a federal district judge in California Democratic Party v. Lungren, 919 F. Supp. 1397 (N.D. Cal. 1996).

California judges campaigned for and won changes to the judicial retention ballot. Ballots would no longer include the length of the term of office a justice was seeking or the name of the governor who appointed the justice. Term lengths had been specified for the first time in 1994, and judges seeking retention for longer terms had received fewer votes.