How to vote for California judges
October 17, 2022 11:39 AM   Subscribe

As usual, the California ballot is a complicated mess, and I have ZERO idea about which, if any, of its 13 judicial appointees I should be voting for. Looking for objective resources about how to vote for/against the judges on the current California ballot.

I pride myself on being an informed voter, but I can't seem to find any reliable info about these judges and judicial appointees, for all of whom I'm given a simple YES/NO option: "Shall X be elected?" The appointments range from associate judges at the district level all the way up to the Chief Justice of California's Supreme Court.

With the politicization of the courts, I regard these votes as very important, but I don't know how to make smart choices. I haven't been able to find any reliable, more-or-less objective info about the judges, nor about which organizations endorse them. Often, I'll do some research to find out which organizations and people with whom I agree politically have endorsed, and then make my choices based on that information. But I haven't turned up anything on these judges.

Can you point me to any reliable resources about these judges and/or their endorsers? If it helps, I can list the relevant names and offices in a follow-up.
posted by Dr. Wu to Law & Government (17 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe the CalMatters website?
posted by kschang at 12:30 PM on October 17, 2022

Ballotpedia seems to have a good amount of information on judges on the ballot, including biographical details and, probably the most informative, who nominated them in the first place (for the retention elections).
posted by General Malaise at 12:32 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

You may not consider this objective, but your county Democratic and Republican parties will have them on their slate cards even if the races are technically nonpartisan. Look on their website for candidates or endorsed candidates or slate card.
posted by jeoc at 12:47 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

League of Women Voters (SD chap link), which links to Voter's Edge ("Get info on candidates, measures, and who supports them").
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:51 PM on October 17, 2022

Some context.

I always just vote yes. It's a stupid system. SF League of Pissed Off Voters did make recommendations
posted by latkes at 1:04 PM on October 17, 2022

I live in LA so I always look at the LA Times endorsements - here's their collection page for all the offices and measures for the upcoming election which includes links to sub-articles about the judicial candidates: They usually don't say a whole lot about the political positions of the judges but they will call out any big scandals or issues to be aware of, like the candidate a few years ago who legally changed his first name to "Judge" to look better on the ballot, or whether justices have let ICE hang around in/just outside their courtrooms. (Sometimes I've actually voted against their endorsement due to information they brought to light leading me to google names and look up news stories.) They have more useful information, like brief descriptions of past experience, on the LA Superior Court justices than the state Supreme Court or district Courts of Appeal, but the reality on those up-down yes-no votes is that those candidates are probably going to be retained anyway unless there's an extremely unusual situation like the judge who sentenced Brock Turner getting recalled.

I do also try to check the bar association ratings - here's LA County's which the LA Times also reports, elsewhere in California you may need to check your own county's bar association, and I'm not sure if the state bar association will post ratings for the state-level seats. Doesn't help at all with political stance but I take a "not qualified" as a big red flag sending me to google more. Sometimes I also take a quick look for the candidate's own website, which obviously isn't unbiased but does let you draw your own conclusions when you see the endorsements and philosophy they choose to highlight there (or whether they've bothered to put together any website at all). Seconding Ballotpedia as a pretty good place that pulls those links together.
posted by sigmagalator at 1:13 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, everyone, for these resources.

I'd looked at CalMatters and Ballotpedia before posting this question (I should've noted which resources I'd used - sorry!), and must say that I find them pretty unhelpful. Unless I'm missing something, these sites, as well as Voter's Edge, offer little beyond the info in the state voter's guide. Voter's Edge looked promising, but every candidate just claims to be apolitical. Few donors are listed for anyone. The most useful info I can find on ANY of these pages is appointment info, which does not always correlate with my "Should I Vote For Them?" meter.

I like that the LA Times and the Pissed Off Voters make some specific endorsements. The question now is whether I agree with the LA Times' editorial board. (I'm pretty sure I agree with the Pissed Off Voters, though my district does not perfectly overlap with theirs.)

I'll keep searching, but if anyone finds anything further, please post it! Thank you!
posted by Dr. Wu at 2:58 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think why you don't see a lot is because these are different from competitive races . I've been voting in California for like 30 years and have read dozens of voter guides. This rarely merits a lot of attention, and I've definitly seen guides over the years that suggest we should all vote yes on all because that's the 'right' position because it conveys anti-electoralism for judge positions. I was deeply involved in my union endorsement process this year and we didn't even talk about these 'races'.

Most who fall (broadly) on the left-ish or left either argue that we should not vote on these positions at all or - as you've observed - they invest really little in these. The Sierra Club didn't endorse. The Young Dems didn't endorse. To my mind the right position is to either not vote or to vote yes - either way is actually irrelevant to the outcome. I know people say that about lots of races and personally I disagree when there are more than one candidate, but these are not 'candidates' in the sense of other offices. I don't know, I really like voting and researching everything and comparing voter guides and all that but these races are just... weird and not races so I treat them as a referendum on whether we should vote for judges at all.

Maybe I would feel differently if there was someone egregiously bad but - outside of the normal and frankly universal way our legal system is egregiously bad - they are not.

My two cents!
posted by latkes at 3:59 PM on October 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

The Green Party of Alameda County produces an exhaustive voter guide for every election, covering every race applicable to the county, including all statewide races. (I don't know if other local Green Party groups do this, but the state Greens link to the Alameda County voter guide.) Their November 2022 voter guide takes basically the same position as latkes outlined above. See the linked PDF on that page for a detailed writeup.
posted by expialidocious at 4:14 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

I literally just did not fill out the ballot for any of the judges. If I have no way to distinguish whether or not something/someone should get my vote, and nobody cared to share their feelings about this online, and no major "vote for X" or "don't vote for X" has been out there to find...fuck it. I don't have the time and energy to dig into this and as latkes indicated, it doesn't seem like it matters.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:55 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: lattes, thank you. That's just the kind of context and information I was hoping to find. I'm very puzzled that these pseudo-races are even on the ballot, but at least now I have a sense of what to do about them!
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:10 PM on October 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

A Google search under the judges' name will give you a brief bio on the judge and the California Governor that appointed them. Republican Governors (Pete Wilson, George Deukmajian, Arnold Schwarzenegger) appoint conservative judges and Democratic Governors (Jerry Brown, Gavin Newsom, and Gray Davis) appoint liberal judges. Judges and school boards are really important races deserve a considered vote. The current Supreme Court is a great example of how profoundly high courts can impact our lives. I voted for judges appointed by Democratic Governors and against judges appointed by Republican Governors.
posted by effluvia at 10:09 PM on October 17, 2022

Response by poster: effluvia, that's an excellent and helpful point. Not sure why I didn't just act on that from the start, but I suppose I was confused about the ballot.

FWIW, I did look up each judge on the ballot, and every single one of the justices whose appointment is up for voter approval was appointed by a Democratic governor: in all cases, Newsom or Brown.
posted by Dr. Wu at 9:22 AM on October 18, 2022

I'm in Southern California, and we have judges that are Wilson, Dukemajian and Schwarzenegger appointments. I agree with you that voting for judges is difficult since there is not a lot of available information on their decision records and how that would impact the voter's community.
posted by effluvia at 10:28 AM on October 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Obviously everyone should vote their dreams but I don't think it's accurate to say that Republican appointees are bad or Democratic appointees are good. It's a different time I know but judges were much less politicized in the past, have long lasting appointments, and in California in particular tend to rule quite similarly to each other. A lot has been said about the problems with judicial elections. Again, everyone should do whatever they are called to do, but worth learning what the arguments are about this.
posted by latkes at 11:32 AM on October 18, 2022

I vot a voter's guide for seniors in the mail. I was reading the propositions off the ballot and the county guide. The voters guide for seniors was completely misrepresenting all the issues, and was a source of blatant misinformation. So the judges, I have to follow the recommendations here, to vote well. (Guess what party put out the senior guide?)
posted by Oyéah at 8:56 PM on October 18, 2022

The problem with Pissed Off Voters is their secrecy. While I understand they may need to keep their faces hidden, it also begs the question what agenda do THEY have other than the name sake (i.e. pissed off).
posted by kschang at 10:37 AM on October 21, 2022

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