Amid more publicized contests for the Indiana governor’s office and the General Assembly, the state’s third branch of government — the judiciary — also will have a presence on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.
But the elections involving the state’s two highest courts, the Indiana Supreme Court and Court of Appeals, are not a choice between candidates. They are instead a choice of yes or no — whether the incumbent should continue in office for another 10 years.
At the state level and in three Indiana counties, “retention” elections are how voters determine who serves in their courts. An amendment to the Indiana Constitution in 1970 brought an end to direct election of Supreme Court and Court of Appeals jurists. Instead, those seeking to serve are reviewed by a nominating commission, which then recommends finalists to the governor, who makes the final appointment. The appointed justice or judge serves two years, then must go before the voters in a retention election.
In the 50 years since the retention process began, no state judge has been removed from office as the result of a retention election.
Superior court judges in three counties — Marion Lake, and St. Joseph — are appointed through a similar process, and must run for retention for six-year terms. In other counties, judges still are chosen by voters in direct elections.
One justice of the Indiana Supreme Court is on the Nov. 3 ballot for retention — Christopher Goff, who has served on the high court since 2017. He is Gov. Eric Holcomb’s only appointee to the Supreme Court.
In applying, Goff, a Superior Court judge in Wabash County, said his interpretation of the Constitution is “originalist” and “textualist,’’ adding, “I believe in collaboration, and I think that judicial decisions are best received if everybody can get behind them.”
Six Court of Appeals judges are up for retention this year:
• Mark Bailey, formerly a judge in Decatur County, appointed in 1998;
• Cale Bradford, formerly a Superior Court judge in Marion County, appointed in 2007;
• Elaine Brown, formerly a Superior Court judge in Dubois County, appointed in 2008;
• Melissa May, formerly an Evansville attorney, appointed in 1998;
• Margret Robb, formerly an attorney in Lafayette, also appointed in 1998; and
• Elizabeth Tavitas, formerly a Superior Court judge in Lake County, appointed in 2018.
While Goff, Brown, May and Robb appear on ballots statewide, three of the Court of Appeals judges — Bailey, Bradford, and Tavitas — are up for retention only in districts covering specific areas of the state.
Brown, May and Robb are the only candidates on northeast Indiana ballots.
More information is online at courts.in.gov/retention.