August 19, 2014

Two Supreme Court justices, one prospective justice — and no more — on November’s ballot

Having timely filed their declarations of candidacy, Justices Kathryn Werdegar and Goodwin Liu will appear on the November 4 ballot throughout California.  Recently nominated Professor Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar will also be on the ballot, assuming he is confirmed next week by the Commission on Judicial Appointments.  (Also on the ballot, but only in their respective districts, not statewide, will be 47 Court of Appeal justices or prospective justices.)

For Werdegar, Liu, and Cuéllar, the voters will be asked the same question, whether the candidate shall “be elected to the office for the term provided by law.”  But, under the state constitution, each is on the ballot for a different reason.

The 12-year term of Justice Werdegar, who has been on the Supreme Court for 20 years, is expiring in January.  To continue in office, she had to declare her candidacy — and must be elected — “to succeed to the office presently held by” her.  If elected, she will not have to be on the ballot for another 12 years.

Justice Liu was appointed and confirmed three years ago.  An appointee to a vacant seat “holds office until the Monday after January 1 following the first general election at which the appointee had the right to become a candidate.”  This November 4 is that “first general election.”  So, even though the vacant term to which Liu was appointed does not expire for another eight years, he must face the voters now.  If elected this year, he’ll be facing an expiring term in 2022, like Werdegar is this year.

Professor Cuéllar was not appointed to a vacancy.  Rather, he was nominated as the candidate to succeed to the office presently held by Justice Marvin Baxter, whose term is expiring in January, but who opted not to file a declaration of candidacy.  If elected, Cuéllar, like Werdegar, will not be on the ballot again until 2026.

There remains one vacancy on the court, created by Justice Joyce Kennard’s retirement earlier this year.  However, it is now too late for any appointee to that seat to be on this year’s ballot.  (The appointee would have had to have been appointed and confirmed by the end of last week to face the voters in November.)  That appointee will not have to stand for election until 2018 and, if elected, will not be on the ballot again until 2030 because the 12-year term for the seat expires in four years.

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