Maryland Considers Retention Elections for Trial Judges

Thomas V. Mike Miller

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller wants to put an end to contested elections for the state’s circuit court judges. The Baltimore Sun reports he has called to replace them with retention (up-or-down) elections.

The judges, who preside over Maryland’s more serious criminal and civil cases, are appointed by the governor for a 15-year term, subject to Senate approval. When that initial term is up, the judges must run in “the next possible election,” the article explains. The judges usually run in (and win) both parties’ primary elections, but sometimes a challenger will win one primary, forcing a general election. Miller called this system, when judges are forced to raise money for electoral campaigns, “very unseemly,” and many of his colleagues agree.

Miller says he is particularly concerned about the increasing amounts of money being spent on judicial elections across the country, pointing to Caperton v. Massey Coal Co. (See Gavel Grab for background.) Other supporters of the constitutional amendment say the current system “disenfranchises independents and third-party voters, who don’t cast ballots in the party primaries that usually decide who goes on the bench,” the article paraphrases.

Senator Michael Hough worries that the proposed change is a partisan response to a successful Republican challenge of an appointee of then-Governor Martian O’Malley. “I wonder if that’s why they’re doing this,” Hough said. He continued to say that retention elections threaten judicial accountability, remarking that “almost nobody is not retained.”