The US State Judicial Selection Process Comparison Essay

The judiciary serves an important function in the preservation of the rule of law. In order to apply the rule of law as required, judges who sit on the judiciary have to be selected through a transparent and well-defined procedure.  Judges are expected to dispense the rule of law equally while avoiding unwarranted external influence. The judicial selection process is a fundamental component in the justice system. In the past, it was the role of chief executives to select judges who served indefinitely. Over time, the ideology is shifting in light of the role of the will of the people in the selection of judges (Neubauer & Meinhold, 2013). The paper will identify the judicial selection process used in Virginia and New York. Differences and similarities between the selection processes in the two states will also be analyzed in addition to the steps required to remove the judge from office.


In Virginia, Judges serving in the Supreme Court are selected through a legislative process. In the past, the selection of judges was a key responsibility of the governor’s office, but now state legislators select the judges through an election. The public and the governor are not involved in the process. Virginia is one of the only two states that use legislative elections to select their judges – the other one being South Carolina. The candidate with the highest number of votes during the legislative elections in each chamber is granted judgeship (Connor & Hammons, 2008).

The process used is almost entirely similar to the selection of the circuit court judges, the court of appeals, and the Supreme Court. Before a candidate is declared eligible to join the judiciary, they have to be approved by a nomination commission. This commission fulfills the role of merit selection. This is the process through which state judges are appointed with the recommendations of a board. It is important to note that although the board is under the governor, he plays no role in the selection process. The selection process is similar to all courts including the Supreme Court and the circuit courts. Moreover, Justices of the Supreme Court serve for a minimum of twelve years while judges have to seek reelection after their terms relapse (McKay, 2013).

To serve as in the judiciary in Virginia as a magistrate, the candidate must be a state resident; circuit judges have to be circuit residents. The candidate must have served as a state bar member for no less than five years. The minimum age is 70, although a bill to raise the minimum age to 73 has already been approved. Federal judges such as district court judged are selected through an independent and different selection procedure (McKay, 2013).

New York

The state of New York has a very complex judicial structure in comparison to Virginia. The judiciary is composed of courts that have the authority to function all across the state, while there are courts set up to primarily function within New York City only – civil and criminal courts. It is also important to note that the trial court in the state is referred to as the Supreme Court which is often used to refer to the court of last resort across most of the country. The Court of Appeal is the highest court in the state of New York (Neubauer & Meinhold, 2013).

Judges in New York are selected based on partisan elections. Candidates have first to compete in a party primary election to choose the party representatives who will compete in a general election. In the election for the Supreme Court, the candidates are elected through a party convention structure. Voters select delegates who vote for the candidates at a convention (O’Brien, 2016).

The court of appeal has seven justices who serve for 14 years. The justices are appointed by the governor of the state. However, these appointments have to come from a list of candidates that is provided by a nomination commission. Before the governor selects the most appropriate candidate, the Senate has to approve the nominated candidates. Judges have to seek re-election at the end of their terms. The chief justice, on the other hand, is appointed by the governor without the assistance of a commission (Redish & Aronoff, 2015).

To serve as a judge in New York, the candidate must be a resident, be under 70 years, and possess a minimum of 10 years’ experience practicing state law. The Supreme Court in New York has 324 justices who serve 14-year terms while the candidates are selected at nomination conventions. To run the Supreme Court, the chief judge of the highest court appoints two administrative judges. One judge is tasked with the supervision of the within the city while the other supervises the trial courts that fall outside the jurisdiction of the city (O’Brien, 2016).

125 judges serve in the county courts. A similar selection process to that of the court of appeal is used, albeit the qualifications differ. To join the county court, candidates must be state and county residents, at least 18 years, and have at least five years’ experience practicing law. The limited jurisdiction courts use a different selection process depending on the needs of that particular tribunal. Federal judges are chosen from each state while Article III federal judges are appointed to serve in the district courts for life (Redish & Aronoff, 2015).


In comparison, the judges in Virginia are selected through a legislative process. Justices to the Supreme Court serve for 12 years while the judges serving in the lower courts serve for eight years. At the end of their terms, judges are reappointed by the legislature. On the other hand, the selection process in New York is partisan. Supreme Court and County judges are selected in partisan elections. A nomination commission is used in the selection of appellate court judges. The highest court in the state is the court of appeal Judges in the court of appeal serve for 14 years while Supreme Court judges have five-year terms (Neubauer & Meinhold, 2013).

In light of any disciplinary action, the state of New York and Virginia follow different procedures for the removal of judges. In New York, the judge can be removed using three ways. First, the judge can be impeached through a majority vote, and for their removal, there must be a two-thirds vote towards their impeachment. Second, the commission on judicial conduct has the power to censure, retire, admonish, and remove any sitting judge from office (Neubauer & Meinhold, 2013).

Additionally, judges can be removed by a two-thirds vote by the house of the legislature. In Virginia, the judicial inquiry and review commission has the power to investigate any claims of misconduct by sitting judges. If the commission finds the judge guilty of misconduct, they can either be censured, removed or dismissed. Also, the house of legislature can remove a sitting judge through a two-thirds vote of the Senate (McKay, 2013).

Virginia has a better and more streamlined selection process, simply because of the inefficiencies of the partisan system used in New York. The political parties often hold controversially closed-door conventions to select candidates. In 2007, a New York Judge filed a case that questioned the partisan system. The case, López-Torres v. New York State Board of Elections, was heard by the Supreme Court in 2007. Lopez-Torres, a judge, claimed that she failed to secure a nomination due to her refusal to hire the daughter of a prominent NY Democrat (O’Brien, 2016).

Judges should be allowed to be as impartial as possible. The selection process used in Virginia allows the judges to avoid the need to seek political endorsements which a major detriment to the administration of justice. The two systems should strive to enable voters to have a say in the judicial elections. Political leaders often make decisions that lack transparency and driven by external forces.

The judicial selection process in New York is opaque, and it might contribute to a poor public outlook. According to Redish & Aronoff, (2015), the party leaders have too much influence on the candidate who will nominate. The legislative system used in Virginia allows for more direct appointments, which tends to produce judges who better understand their local communities. The legislature is usually more representative of the people than the governor or a partisan convention. Judges selected through the legislature are representative of the will of the citizens. The legislature also allows for debate which often results in the selection of the most qualified candidates for the positions (McKay, 2013).

Virginia makes use of a nomination commission to approve all candidates before nomination. The appointment and screening procedures are almost non-existent in New York. Screening communities play a significant role in the vetting of candidates who are elected to serve in the judiciary. It is easy for the quality of judges to be compromised because of the possibility of the occurrence of backroom political deals. Furthermore, after elections, most of the candidates are still in effect an arm of the political party (Redish & Aronoff, 2015).


The judiciary is an important constituent of the government, tasked with ensuring that the rule of law is preserved. The judicial selection process describes the methods through which judges are nominated and chosen to serve in the judiciary. The research analyzed the judicial selection processes used across two states – Virginia and New York. In Virginia, judges are selected through a legislative process with the governor and general public not participating in the process. The selection process used in New York is mostly partisan involving partisan conventions to select party candidates (Neubauer & Meinhold, 2013).

It has been long debated on who should be given the power to select the members of the legislature. The people are not in a position to choose the candidates who should serve as judges. In Virginia, the judges are selected through a limited but transparent legislative process. On the other hand, the partisan system employed by New York is susceptible to political interference, and judges risk losing their impartiality. The system used in New York has been continuously challenged because of its failure to ensure that all candidates have a fair chance of winning a nomination (O’Brien, 2016).



Connor, G. & Hammons, C. (2008). The constitutionalism of American states. Columbia: University of Missouri Press.
McKay, D. (2013). American politics and society. Chichester, West Sussex, U.K.: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
Neubauer, D. & Meinhold, S. (2013). Judicial process. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
O’Brien, R. (2016). Judges’ Elections Get New ScrutinyWSJ. Retrieved 22 April 2016, from
Redish, M. & Aronoff, J. (2015). The Real Constitutional Problem with State Judicial Selection: Due Process Judicial Retention and the Dangers of Popular Constitutionalism. SSRN Electronic Journal.