Federal and State Judges are selected differently because they have different jurisdictions. In Utah, our state court hierarchy starts with Justice Court and Small Claims Court and ends at the Supreme Court.
Justice Court and Small Claims Court. In this court, the decision-maker is called a Justice. Justices hear cases and enter convictions. Applicants for the Justice position are not required to have a legal education or be a licensed attorney. Justices are initially appointed by either the county commission or city council and retained by appointment or election every six years. You may experience Justice Court if you get a speeding ticket, are charged with possession of an illegal drug, or your dog gets loose. If you have a monetary dispute or unpaid debt, you might get a summons from Small Claims Court. Sevier County has three Justice and Small Claims Courts in Richfield, Salina, and Aurora. Wayne County and Piute County have one Justice Court at the county seat. Garfield County has one court in Panguitch. Criminal court cases decided in Justice Court can be reheard in District Court, without review. Small Claims cases can also be removed to District Court or appealed to District Court.
State Judges for District, Appellate, and Supreme Courts. Unlike other states, Utah judges are selected by committee and not by election. This means the Governor appoints a committee of lawyers and nonlawyers from each judicial district to nominate five potential judges. The nominations are then interviewed by the Governor’s office.
Retention. Three years after the judge or justice is selected, their ability to stay on the bench is up for public vote in the first general election. District and Appellate Judges are up for retention and every six years, after their first vote. Supreme Court Justices are up for retention every ten years after the initial election.
A retention vote means you, the voter, choose if the judge or justice shall be retained. If you like the judge or justice’s actions, you vote “yes” and if you do not, then you vote “no.” If the judge receives more “yes” votes than “no” votes, the justice or judge is retained. If judge receives more “no” votes than “yes” votes, the judge is not retained and the position must be filled through the appointment process.
Who are your judges? What is their legal and professional history? You can find out more about each judge and justice in the Sixth District – including Sevier, Wayne, Piute, and Garfield Counties – by looking up their information online through the Utah Courts website and Judge Bios. If you would like to become a judge but do not have law license or degree, look for the Justice Court and Small Claims openings with the Utah Courts. If you have a legal license, polish your reputation and maintain your integrity so you can be nominated by your local committee.
Disclaimer. As always, my column is not legal advice, instead merely insight into the law and legal profession. If you have a general question about the law or legal profession, please email me at email@example.com or call 435.610.1431.
Last time, I wrote an overview of the three branches of government and how a bill becomes a law. This week I’ll explain the administrative state.
This week, I’m starting my new serial: civics. Through January, will discuss basic civic information: the organization of the federal government and how a federal bill becomes a law, the organization of the State of Utah’s government and how a state bill becomes a law, the federal administrative state, the state administrative state, Utah county jurisdiction, and city jurisdiction.
If you have general civics questions, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435.610.1431.
The federal government is composed of three parts: the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch.
The constitution, its amendments, and its interpretation through time articulate the limited, enumerated powers of each branch.
The executive branch. This power is limited. Its role is to carry out and enforce federal laws created by the legislative branch (Congress) and interpreted by the judicial branch.
The branch includes the President, Vice President, the Cabinet, and agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, Department of Interior, and Department of Defense.
Congress can further limit executive power. For instance, previous presidents could declare war whereas now, only Congress can declare war on a foreign country. However, the executive branch can unilaterally order military action through its management of the Department of Defense. Executive and legislative power continually tug at each other in order to maintain a balance of power between them.
The legislative branch: Congress. As a limited power, it includes the House of Representatives and the Senate. House members from each state are determined by the population of the state whereas two senate seats are held by each state. The legislative branch maintains the power to create laws, investigate and impeach individuals, tax, and budget for the federal government.
The judicial branch. Federal Judges. This power is also limited. It facilitates the federal courts. Federal crimes and civil actions, constitutional questions, immigration, bankruptcy, public lands conflicts, administrative disputes, issues between states, and federal law interpretation are litigated in federal court.
Like state court, federal courts can have jury trials and opportunities to appeal. The constitution is silent about the number of federal judges, courts, or number of Supreme Court justices. A statute created passed by Congress (both the House of Representatives and Senate) and signed by the President require the Supreme Court to have nine justices. The Senate approves federal judge appointments.
How an idea becomes a law. Let’s say you want to make a new national holiday, the Friday after Thanksgiving. You could argue most public schools are closed, banking does not occur, and a majority of people try to take the day off, regardless to its status as a federal holiday so why not add the certainty of the holiday?
You name the proposal “The Thanksgiving Leftovers Act.” As a citizen, you would meet with your congressional delegates: the Congress member from your district or the two Senators from your state. They may tweak the proposal and propose it to a committee in either the House or Senate.
The proposal would be researched and approved by the committee then proposed to the entire House or Senate. If it passes the full floor vote, then it is sent to the other portion of House who hears it in a committee, modifies it, passes it on the floor of the House or Senate, then the bill is sent back and forth until the House and Senate have no more modifications.
Then it goes to the President. If the President signs the bill, it becomes law. If the president vetoes the bill, both the House and Senate must vote again and pass the bill by 2/3 of their entire body.
If the now law is controversial, it may be litigated by opponents as unconstitutional. The justice system would consider the law’s compliance with the constitution and other federal laws. If the law is upheld, the President and executive branch are required to enforce it through the administrative state.
And no, you will not be quizzed on this. Next week, I’ll discuss the federal administrative state and its role in the federal government.