Under the Dome

Bill would change state judicial elections

A bill changing the way appellate court judges are chosen passed the House Judiciary I Committee on Monday.

House Bill 222 would give state Supreme Court justices and Appeals Court judges the option of running in retention elections after they win contested races for the bench.

The legislature has considered similar bills in past years that ultimately did not pass.

This attempt differs a bit because it gives judges and justices the option of running in retention elections – they are not required – and does not ask voters to change the state constitution.

The way it would work is Appeals Court judges or Supreme Court justices, after winning elections, could choose to stand for a retention election as their terms end. A retention election is an up or down vote in which the candidate would not face an opponent.

If the judge is not retained, the governor would fill the seat, and voters would elect a candidate in the next election.

The bill is a response to increasingly expensive judicial races.

People are tired “of seeing millions of dollars spent electing a member of the Supreme Court or the Court of Appeals,” said Rep. Leo Daughtry, a Smithfield Republican and one of the bill sponsors.

He conceded that millions could still be spent supporting or opposing a judge in a retention election. The bill isn’t perfect, he said. “This is a step in the right direction.”