University of Denver

Implementation of Merit Selection in Pinal County Hits a Snag

Former Manager, Quality Judges Initiative

According to a 1974 amendment to Arizona’s constitution, counties with a population of at least 250,000 must select their superior court judges via commission-based gubernatorial appointment—a.k.a. merit selection—rather than in contested elections. Pinal County exceeded that population threshold in the 2010 census, but the transition to merit selection has not been a smooth one, in part because the constitution does not address how to start the process from scratch. Under the constitution, nominees for an existing vacancy should have been sent to the governor by November 18, but members of Pinal County’s nominating commission have not yet been appointed by the governor or confirmed by the senate. Retention elections went off more smoothly, with four superior court judges standing for retention in November.