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State of Alabama

Judicial Selection in the States: Alabama

Overview

News

The Montana House State Administration Committee yesterday approved a bill to require judges recuse from cases due to campaign contributions. Under HB 157 as approved...

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A plan to require Wyoming judicial nominating commission members to be subject to senate confirmation appears to have died. Wyoming s top courts use a...

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This is proving to be an unprecedented year in terms of the number of efforts to either switch from partisan to nonpartisan judicial elections or...

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Examines successful judicial selection reform efforts in six states, discussing...

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The Alabama judiciary is composed of three appellate courts--the supreme court, the court of civil appeals, and the court of criminal appeals--and four trial courts--the circuit, district, probate, and municipal courts. The circuit court is the trial court of general jurisdiction. Judges in Alabama are chosen in partisan elections. When judicial vacancies occur between elections, the governor appoints judges to fill those seats. In some counties, appointments are made from a list of names provided by a judicial nominating commission.

Judicial races in Alabama became increasingly politicized in the 1980s and 1990s, in large part because of the controversy over tort reform. The size of jury verdicts began to increase during this time, to the extent that Alabama was dubbed "Tort Hell" by Forbes magazine. The legislature passed a tort reform package in 1987, but many of its provisions were declared unconstitutional by the Alabama Supreme Court during the early 1990s. As judicial races took on heightened significance, campaign fundraising became more important. Between 1986 and 1996, expenditures by supreme court candidates grew by 776%. As campaigns became more expensive, they also became more contentious. The 1996 elections were dubbed "the year of the skunk" because of an ad run by an incumbent supreme court justice that alluded to his opponent and featured pictures of a skunk, accompanied by the caption "Some things you can smell a mile away."

Following the 1996 elections, the Alabama Supreme Court created a judicial campaign oversight committee to advise candidates regarding campaign conduct during the 1998 elections. Because of the committee's success in improving judicial campaign conduct in 1998, committees were also established for the 2000, 2006, and 2008 elections. For more information on Alabama's judicial campaign oversight committee, see Judicial Selection Reform: Examples from Six States.