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The state of California is asking voters to decide whether to keep three California Supreme Court justices. Voters will also weigh in on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s nomination of current Associate Justice Patricia Guerrero to replace Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, who was announced Sept. 28 as president and CEO of the Public Policy Institute of California as of Jan. 1.

Qualifications:

  • A legal career or at least a credential: Justices must be a member of the State Bar of California or a California judge for at least 10 years.
  • Political acumen: All justices are appointed or nominated by a governor and confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments. While the job is nonpartisan, justices are often politically savvy. For example, Justices Joshua Groban and Martin Jenkins were appointed to the high court by their former bosses, then-Gov. Jerry Brown and Newsom, respectively.
  • A love for reading, writing and listening: The California Supreme Court reviews lower state court decisions, decides legal questions and maintains uniformity in the law. The seven justices also review all death penalty cases, which by law, are automatically appealed from the trial court to the Supreme Court.

Compensation

Associate justices’ salaries typically start at $274,732 per year to decide important legal questions. The chief justice’s salary range starts at $288,100 per year to lead California’s judicial branch, including serving as chairperson of the Judicial Council and of the Commission on Judicial Appointments.

About the hiring process:

The Nov. 8 ballot will include the names of four Supreme Court justices. Retention elections are nonpartisan and there are no opponents. Voters just select “yes” or “no” beside each name. 

Justices are selected through a three-step process. They’re appointed by the governor, confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments, and retained or approved by voters for 12-year terms in the next gubernatorial election, which sometimes comes years after an appointed justice has been sworn in. Only confirmed nominees can become a justice.

Three appointed associate justices — Patricia Guerrero, Joshua Groban and Martin Jenkins — are on the ballot for the first time. Associate Justice Goodwin Liu is on the ballot because his 12-year elected term is up.

Guerrero was appointed to the high court in March 2022. Within months, she was nominated and unanimously confirmed as chief justice. Now, voters have to approve her before she can be sworn in January as the first Latina chief justice in California history. If voters reject her, Newsom would have to appoint a chief justice. 

Rarely do voters decide against retaining a justice or approving a chief justice, but it has happened. In 1986, California voters — upset that the court was delaying capital punishment cases — voted not to grant Chief Justice Rose Bird and two other justices new 12-year terms.

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