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State of Rhode Island

Judicial Selection in the States: Rhode Island

Overview

News

Back in December I noted a pattern emerging in more and more states with merit/commission based systems: legislatures and governors want more names making their...

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A Washington bill to require judges recuse from cases in which they received campaign contributions from a party or attorney has been amended into a...

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Arizona s constitution provides that judges for the Superior Court in counties with a population over 250,000 are selected via the state s merit/commission system...

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Courtesy of the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. Department of...

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The Rhode Island judiciary is composed of a supreme court, a superior court, and various trial courts of limited jurisdiction. Rhode Island has the distinction of being the most recent state to adopt merit selection by constitutional amendment. It did so in 1994.

Prior to 1994, supreme court justices were elected by the grand committee (both chambers of the general assembly acting in concert). Lower court judges were appointed by the governor with senate confirmation; according to an informal agreement, the governor, the president of the senate, and the speaker of the house alternated control over selecting appointees.

The move to merit selection was prompted by a series of scandals in the late 1980s and early 1990s involving supreme court justices. During this time, two justices resigned under threat of impeachment, and one superior court judge pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes.  Additionally, one  Rhode Island governor also pleaded guilty to soliciting bribes and was sent to prison. A broad-based coalition known as RIght Now! led the reform effort. Key members of the coalition included Common Cause of Rhode Island, the Rhode Island Bar Association, the Rhode Island State Council of Churches and the Rhode Island League of Women Voters.