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How to Run for Judge

2 min read
Laurette LaLiberte · May 10, 2024

The judiciary holds a pivotal role in American society, interpreting laws, resolving disputes, and upholding the principles of justice. If you're considering running for a judicial position, whether in your community or at the state level, it's essential to understand the unique aspects of a judicial campaign, the qualifications required, and the different levels at which judges can serve. 

Our aim is to provide a comprehensive overview of how to run for judge that’s tailored to help potential candidates navigate this specialized electoral path and win their seat.

Understanding the Judicial System

We hear all the time that we are a nation of laws. Ultimately, that means having people on the bench who are qualified to interpret the laws and impose an appropriate judgment or remedy while remaining fair and impartial. 

It’s a delicate balance between protecting the public and ensuring that the rights of the accused remain intact. 

The judiciary is meant to be non-partisan, and this is true in all but eight states. Judges can be elected by the people, appointed by an executive administrator, or placed into their position in a hybrid system that’s known as an “assisted” or merit-based appointment. 

This procedure, known as the Missouri Plan, involves pre-vetting of judicial candidates by a commission that’s made up of other judges, lawyers, and citizens who are appointed by the governor of the state. They whittle the candidates down to three, and the state governor picks from among the final candidates. If the governor fails to make a selection within 60 days, the decision is left to the state legislature.  

Whether appointed or elected into their position, judges serve at various levels of government, each with distinct responsibilities.

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Local and Municipal Judges

Local and municipal judges typically handle minor criminal cases, traffic violations, and local disputes. They may also preside over small claims cases and perform civil ceremonies.

State Judges

State judges operate at several levels, including trial courts (also known as superior or district courts), appellate courts, and the state supreme court. These judges handle everything from felony cases to civil disputes over large sums, appeals on legal issues, and significant constitutional matters.

Federal Judges

Federal judgeships include district court judges, appellate court judges (circuit courts), and justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. Those who serve in these positions are typically appointed by the president and confirmed by the Senate rather than elected.

The Role of Judges

There are a variety of opinions on what makes a good judge. Some people would like to see our judicial benches filled with activist judges who will right perceived wrongs within the system itself. Others prefer that judges simply apply the rule of law as written

Ideally, the role of judges may fall somewhere in between the two extremes. Most of us can agree that a good judge is one who is:

  • Balanced

  • Impartial

  • Fair

  • Independent

The role of judge may be one of the most impactful, consequential, and underestimated of all elected positions. Judges are responsible for ensuring that the law is applied consistently and justly. They preside over court proceedings, make rulings on motions, instruct juries, and render verdicts in bench trials. The level of court often determines the complexity and severity of the cases handled.

In very large and populous jurisdictions, running for judge can also be a complex process. Take this rundown of the court system in New York state, for example. 

How Running for Judge Differs from Other Campaigns

Running for a judicial position is markedly different from running for other elected roles. Judicial campaigns are typically non-partisan, focusing on qualifications and judicial temperament rather than political affiliation. In addition, candidates must adhere to strict ethical standards to maintain impartiality and integrity.

The independence of the judiciary is a cornerstone of a fair and functioning democracy, particularly in the politically charged atmosphere of 2024. Judges who maintain independence from political parties and ideologies are essential for upholding the rule of law and ensuring justice is administered without bias. 

For judicial candidates, advancing the independent movement means committing to impartiality and resisting pressures that could compromise judicial decision-making. By prioritizing legal integrity over political influence, independent judges strengthen the public’s confidence in the legal system. 

Candidates for judgeships can promote these values by advocating for judicial reforms that enhance transparency and reduce political interference in the judicial process. That’s the surest way to maintain a judiciary that acts as a neutral arbiter in an increasingly partisan landscape.

Qualifications Needed to Run for Judge

Unlike other elected positions, judges must meet minimal educational standards in order to qualify. Candidates looking to run for a judicial position must meet specific qualifications:

  1. Education: A law degree from an accredited law school is generally required.

  2. Experience: Many jurisdictions require candidates to have practiced law for a number of years.

  3. Bar Membership: Candidates must be members in good standing of the bar in the jurisdiction where they are running.

  4. Age: Minimum age requirements vary, but candidates are typically required to be at least 25 years old.

  5. Residency: Residency in the jurisdiction at the time of election is usually required.

Whether you aspire to be a local judge or aim for higher courts, the journey begins with understanding the role, meeting the qualifications, and committing to a campaign that upholds the highest standards of fairness and integrity. Check with your state or local election board for detailed requirements for judicial candidates in your area.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Running for Judge

As long as you meet the minimum qualifications for the position, running for judge is more or less the same as running for any other elected position. However, since judges don’t ordinarily run under a partisan banner, they must work harder to raise awareness among the voting public. 

Step 1: Meet the Basic Qualifications

Ensure that you meet all of the necessary qualifications for the judicial position you are interested in. This includes educational background, legal experience, and bar membership.

Step 2: Understand the Judicial Role

Familiarize yourself with the duties and responsibilities of the judgeship you seek. Attend court sessions, and possibly shadow a judge to gain a deeper understanding of the daily duties and challenges of the role.

Step 3: Announce Your Candidacy

File the necessary paperwork with the relevant election authority to officially declare your candidacy. This may include collecting signatures for a petition if required.

Step 4: Campaign Ethically

Focus your campaign on your qualifications, experience, and vision for the judiciary. Judicial campaigns must avoid the appearance of bias or partisanship. Engage with the community and legal professionals to build a broad base of support.

Step 5: Participate in Bar Associations and Community Events

Active involvement in local bar associations and community groups can enhance your visibility and credibility. These platforms also allow for networking and support from peers.

Step 6: Navigate the Election Process

Prepare for any primaries, general elections, or appointment processes involved in your judicial race. Depending on your jurisdiction, the path to becoming a judge can vary significantly.

Running for a judicial position offers a unique opportunity to contribute to your community and the legal system. It requires a combination of legal expertise, ethical campaigning, and a deep commitment to justice.

Free Tools for Judicial Campaigns

If you're ready to take the next step in your legal career and need guidance on launching or running your judicial campaign,’s team is here to help by providing the tools and resources you need to run for office and win. 

Get in touch with us to talk to an expert today!

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How to Run for Office
By Laurette LaLiberte
Laurette LaLiberte is an activist and freelance writer located in Michigan.