State’s mix of court systems makes for interesting selection process
In Louisiana politics, the judicial system seems to get the least amount of coverage when compared to the executive branch and legislative branch. We hear stories on the news about people being arrested, but the coverage ends there. The Louisiana court system has differences and similarities from the other states in the country that make it just as unique as the people who live in the state.
The Louisiana judicial branch works in a civil code system, which essentially means that it “operates with a written ‘code’ that is nearly comprehensive statement of what the law is” (Davie & Maher, 13). The court must use the guidelines or principles of the code to give their ruling on the individual case. For example, if someone is charged with murder, the judge must rule in accordance with the principle established in the code pertaining to murder. The civil code is heavily influenced by French and Spanish culture because Louisiana has been governed by both. Most European countries use the civil code system in their judicial branches.
So, the first question is, “How is this different from the other states?” The other states in the country use a common law system to determine rulings for cases. This means that the court uses precedent from previous rulings to determine what legal rule should be applied in the case at bar. This often allows the court to create new legal rules for future cases. There are studies being conducted to determine if Louisiana justices are leaning more towards a common law standard of review for cases.
The selection of justices says a lot about the state’s system of government. Justices can either be appointment, elected or reviewed by the state’s bar association. All Louisiana justices are elected in bipartisan races throughout the state (even the Supreme Court Justices). “Louisiana is one of six states that elects all of its judges at the district level and above in partisan elections” (Davie & Maher, 17). In regards to the partisanship of the justices, 64 percent are Democrat, 31 percent are Republican and 5 percent are “other” (Davie & Maher, 18).
All cases begin at the district level and then rise from there. The next level is the appellate court, which then leads to the state supreme court. The district and appellate levels have jurisdiction over civil matters; family and juvenile courts; and criminal cases. There are some crimes that are sent directly to the Louisiana Supreme Court as determined by the civil code (like death penalty cases). At each level (district, appellate and supreme), the chief justice is selected by seniority. The districts for the circuit court are divided into five sections. There are seven supreme court districts, and each justice is elected for 10-year terms but are required to retire by the age of 70.
To be qualified for the bench, “judges must have been admitted to the practice of law in Louisiana for either years (district) or 10 years (appellate, supreme); they must have lived in their district for at least one year prior to the election, and they cannot practice law once elected” (Davie & Maher, 21). The criteria to be a justice in the Louisiana are strict as to ensure a fair and balanced panel of judges. This is one of the few elected positions in Louisiana that have a very detailed list of how this elected official has to be qualified.
The Louisiana court system has become a hybrid of both civil code and common law, and is diverse in its selection of justices. All of this information can help you with the upcoming election for the 3rd Circuit. Louisiana is unique, and so is its court system.