Every year, just after the election, someone asks me, “Should I have voted for Judge Whats-his-robe? I didn’t know if he’s any good.” The judicial retention vote is a bit like the “CE” button on a calculator. We all think we know how it works and why it’s there, but we can’t explain it. So, in an effort to make us all more confident of the unknown, here are some FAQs of the 2012 judicial retention voting:
Why do we have retention votes for judges and justices?
Because Indiana amended its constitution in 1970. The retention system is seen as a balance between the desire for an independent judiciary which shields judges from the fray of partisan politics, and the need for accountability.
How does it work?
Judges and justices of the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, and Tax Court must stand for a retention vote 2 years after their initial appointment, and every 10 years after that. A majority “Yes” vote means the judge stays, a majority “No” means the judge goes. More details here.
Has any Indiana judge or justice ever not been retained?
No. But Iowa, which has a similar system, did dismiss some of its judges a couple of years ago through a retention vote system.
Will all of the judges up for vote be on my ballot?
No. The Supreme Court Justices (David and Rucker) will, but the Court of Appeals has districts, so not every candidate will show up on every voter’s ballot. You can go to the Indiana voter registration website and see who exactly will be on your ballot.
How do I learn more about each judge or justice?
The state has biographical information listed here, with links to decisions written by each candidate.
Why does the Supreme Court have “Justices” while the other Courts have “Judges”?
Because it’s in the Indiana Constitution that way. Article 7, Section 2 states: “The Supreme Court shall consist of the Chief Justice of the State and not less than four nor more than eight associate justices.” Section 5 identifies the Court of Appeals as consisting of “judges.”
I think the Colts will surprise many and win 8 games this year, but —
I mean about the judicial elections. Do you think there will be any surprises?
No. There has been some opposition to Justice David over the 2011 Barnes decision, which I have written about before, but I do not think it is organized enough to remove him from the bench. Generally, judicial retention follows the rule “No news is good news” for those on the bench.