Questions persist about voters’ role in judicial retention
By Hannah Garcia
LAW WEEK COLORADO
Colorado’s judicial selection system boasts both merit-based appointments and citizen-approved accountability, but election numbers call into question how many voters actually pay attention.
Unlike most states, judges reach the bench in Colorado through an appointment process advocated by retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The state uses judicial nominating commissions to vet candidates for vacancies from county courts to the Colorado Supreme Court. But after a judge finishes his or her first provisional term, voters get a say in retention elections.
The idea is, even with a meritocracy in appointment, voters can eject a judge from his or her seat if they are unhappy with the judge’s performance on the bench, according to Kent Wagner, executive director of the Office of Judicial Performance Evaluation.
“It provides citizens’ input into the process and is a check on the governor’s appointment powers,” Wagner said in an email. “Retention elections let citizens give ongoing feedback to the judge on how they think the judge is doing in their job. The votes also provide judges with a view on how well they are performing and reflect on that performance based on the election results.”