I may be a day late, but the Wisconsin State Supreme Court election made national headlines, with Janet Protasiewicz defeating Daniel Kelly for the open seat.

As we know, Wisconsin holds nonpartisian elections for State Supreme Court judges, thanks to Article VII, Section 4 of the Wisconsin Constitution. (Aside: did you know that the original Wisconsin Constitution was seemingly lost way back in the 1800s and never found? Be careful with your state's founding documents is the takeaway here! Thanks to our great State Democracy Research Initiative staff for bringing that to my attention.)

But this is not the only way to seat a State Supreme Court Judge. Unsurprisingly, in the laboratories of democracy, states have opted for a number of different ways to appoint a Justice. The Brennan Center has a great interactive map that allows you to see how each state selects Justices at a number of levels, and at which phase of their appointment (interim, first term, or later terms). Wisconsin is one of 14 states scattered across the US that uses a nonpartisian election to select Justices for their first term. 27 states, the largest group, goes with gubernatorial selections for a first term, while two (South Carolina and Virginia) rely on legislative appointments. California stands along with a hybrid approach to selecting Justices, while 7 states go full-hog partisan election. To my eyes, there doesn't seem to be any regional preference for the methods, save gubernatorial selections owning New England and the Plains.

When we flip to additional terms, elections rule the day, with either retention elections (18 states), partisian elections (5 states) or nonpartisian elections (13 states, including Wisconsin) being the method for 31 states. Unknown to me, Hawaii reappoints judges via an independent commission. 

Fascinating? Yes, at least to me! For more fun maps and charts, check out this workbook produced by National Center for State Courts.

Submitted by Turner,Kristopher on April 5, 2023

This article appears in the categories: Law Library