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Judicial Selection in Florida
In Florida, the judiciary consists of the county courts, circuit courts, the district courts of appeal, as well as the Supreme Court as the highest authority in the state. Judges in Florida courts are selected through two methods, the choice of which depends on the level and the authority of the court. For example, appellate court judges usually have to undergo the Missouri Plan, which is a process of assisted appointment.
The Missouri Plan or assisted appointment is a process in which the state governor along with a commission selects judges for state courts. Florida judges that operate in trial courts must then participate in the nonpartisan elections. The aim of such elections is not to narrow the number of candidates to two; on the contrary, the two most preferred candidates are usually presented at the start of the general election.
In Florida, Courts of Appeal and Supreme Courts require judges to have certain qualifications that include a range of aspects. For example, the judge must be under seventy years old, be a qualified elector and the resident of the state, as well as have ten years of experience in law before considering the ‘bench’. If a vacancy occurs during the midterm, the process of judge selection proceeds as it would in the case if it occurred at the end of a judge’s six-year term (Salokar, Berggren, & DePalo, 2013). Furthermore, separate counties within the state can choose one method of judge selection over another if they wish. The choice of another selection method requires at least ten percent of voters’ signatures and the subsequent petition filing.
Judicial Selection in Texas
In Texas, the selection of judges to state courts occurs via partisan elections at each level of the court. Unlike non-partisan elections, this type of election is characterized by candidates being associated with a political party. In Texas, Democratic and Republican candidates first go through a primary selection for winning a chance to represent their parties in the general election. This type of judge selection is applied to both initial and subsequent terms.
As to the appellate courts in the state of Texas, the judge has to be a United States citizen and the resident of the state, be licensed to practice law, aged between thirty-five and seventy-five (although judges aged older than seventy-four cannot run for office), and have ten years of law experience prior to being elected as a judge. Qualifications for judges in district courts vary from appellate courts’ requirements; for example, a candidate may be aged from twenty-five to seventy-five, have practiced law for four years, and be a resident of a specific judicial district for more than two years.
Lastly, the requirements for statutory county courts vary from the district and appellate courts. The candidate for the position of a judge must be at least twenty-five years old, be a resident or the county for at least two years, and have four years of law experience prior to considering becoming a statutory court judge (League of Women Voters of Texas, 2002).
Overall, there are some differences between the ways in which the states of Florida and Texas conduct judicial selection. In Florida, all judges, except circuit court judges, are selected through the Missouri Plan that involves a nominating commission; however, all nominees must participate in partisan elections, in which candidates compete for the right to represent their political party. In Texas, district court judges are only selected to four-year serving terms while appellate judges serve six years in their positions.
On the contrary, all judges in Florida serve six years and have an opportunity to be elected again after their term ends (US Legal, 2016). The qualifications for judges in Florida and Texas are similar in some ways, although there are some minor differences. For example, the age threshold for judges in Florida is 70 while in Texas it is 75. Moreover, while appellate court judges in Florida have to be admitted to practice law in the state, in Texas all judges must have the license in order to be elected to such courts.
Despite the fact that in their jobs judges are granted independence, they must be held accountable for their actions and be removed from office for misconduct or other disciplinary reasons. In Florida, judges may be removed from office in two different ways. First, the judicial qualifications commission may recommend the Supreme Court to remove the judge from office, retire, or just discipline. Second, the two-thirds vote from the House of Representatives is capable of impeaching a judge while the two-thirds Senate vote can convict the judge for misconduct.
The process of removing a judge from office in Texas is more complicated and is comprised of four different options. First, the Supreme Court can remove judges from district courts. Second, the governor has a right to remove a judge when there is a complaint addressed by the two-thirds of the senate or the house of the representatives. Third, the full House of Representatives can impeach the judge while the two-thirds of the Senate can remove the judge from office.
Lastly, the judge can be removed with the help from the state commission on judicial conduct, which investigates as well as prosecutes misconduct. In cases when a commission issues a recommendation to remove a judge from office, the Supreme Court must present the commission’s findings before the tribunal that will analyze the findings and make the final decision. However, there is a possibility for the judge to appeal this decision.
The comparison of judicial selection processes in Florida and Texas has shown that states can approach the selection of judges to courts differently. If to compare the two approaches, Florida’s Missouri plan seems to have far more benefits than the partisan elections held in Texas. It seems more productive to have a nominating commission that reviews all candidates and then produces a limited list of individuals that are qualified for the position of a judge. Partisan elections may cost the state a lot, take much more time, and never guarantee that the judge will be accountable and responsive to the public that chose him or her to the office, despite the pressure to please the supporters during the period of elections.
Furthermore, after the judge finishes the six-year term, under the Missouri Plan, he or she may stand for a popular election to serve in the office for another term, without competing with the rest of the candidates. In such cases, judges have the option to ground his candidacy on previous work and experience while it is the job of the voters to decide whether a judge should be retained in the office for another six years.
League of Women Voters of Texas. (2002). Judicial selection in Texas: Nothing’s perfect. Web.
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Salokar, R., Berggren, J., & DePalo, K. (2013). The new politics of judicial selection in Florida: Merit selection redefined. Justice System Journal, 27(2), 123-142.
US Legal. (2016). State-by-state summary of judicial selection. Web.