Arizona Republicans Propose Ballot Measure to End Term Limits for State Judges

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Justices and judges in Arizona are currently subject to term limits, but a new amendment resolution proposed by state Republicans could allow for all members of the judiciary to serve lifetime terms. 

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1044 (SCR 1044), which was introduced in the state Senate in early February, proposes a constitutional amendment that seeks to eliminate judicial retention elections in the Copper State. 

Currently, superior — or trial — court judges serve four-year terms while appellate judges and Supreme Court justices serve six-year terms, but should SCR 1044 pass, all judges and justices could serve lifetime terms. The only exception is if a judge or justice does not exhibit “good behavior” — which the resolution describes as a felony conviction of any crime involving fraud, bankruptcy, foreclosure or dishonesty, or not meeting “judicial performance standards” — then they may be subject to a retention election. 

Constitutional amendments can be placed on the ballot if approved by both legislative chambers and can only pass if a majority of voters sign off. The bill passed the state Senate in a 16-14 party line vote on March 6; it’s currently awaiting a full vote in the state House of Representatives before it can officially be on the November ballot.

The impetus to allow judges and justices to serve lifetime appointments stems from the 2022 midterm elections, when Arizona voters did not vote to retain three Maricopa Superior Court judges. The results of the election prompted a lawsuit from the right-wing Goldwater Institute, which alleges that it’s unconstitutional that only voters in the counties where the superior court judges reside can vote on their retention. Their lawsuit argued that all Arizona voters — not just the voters in the counties that the justices reside in — should vote in their retention elections, since the judges have statewide jurisdiction. 

Jonathan Paton, a former member of the Arizona Legislature and a lobbyist for Arizona Judges Association, testified in a hearing on the resolution before the March vote, according to the Arizona Capitol Times. The point of the resolution, Paton argued, was to simplify the process of appointing judges and justices, rather than allowing voters without much knowledge of the judiciary to decide. “I’ve been the judiciary chair of the Senate. I’ve served on the appellate court commission, and I represent the Judges Association, and I don’t know who most of these people are that appear on the ballot,” he said. “So, do we think that the average voter knows?” 

Sen. Flavio Bravo (D) spoke out against the resolution during the same hearing. “Voters are trying to find more information, they are trying to pay attention,” he said. “I don’t think they would want their ability to decide or to make an impact or to weigh in to be removed.” 

Read the resolution here. 

Learn more about how state judges are selected here.