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Fact check: Are Colorado Supreme Court justices ‘unelected,’ as GOP has claimed?

By Marshall Cohen, CNN

(CNN) — After the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that former President Donald Trump is ineligible for office because of the Constitution’s “insurrectionist ban,” some prominent Republicans bashed the “unelected judges” for their decision.

“We need elections that we can trust, that we can believe in,” GOP presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy said Tuesday at a campaign event in Mason City, Iowa. “That means yes, unelected judges are not going to decide willy-nilly across the state who ends up on a ballot and who doesn’t.”

GOP Rep. Mike Waltz of Florida also criticized the “unelected judges” for issuing a “garbage” ruling in a social media post Wednesday. And Trump pollster Jim McLaughlin told Politico that the case was decided by “a bunch of unelected, left-wing judges.” Missouri Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe similarly said “unelected liberal judges” shouldn’t determine who can be president.

Facts First:These comments aren’t entirely accurate. In Colorado, supreme court justices are initially appointed by governors but then have to face the voters by running in statewide retention elections. Colorado voters previously chose to keep all four justices who were in the 4-3 majority that ruled against Trump.

All seven justices on the state’s high court were appointed by Democratic governors, which has become a point of criticism from Trump’s campaign after the ruling.

The justices serve for an initial two years – and then Colorado voters decide on a yes-or-no ballot whether to keep them for a subsequent 10-year term, according to state law. This is different from some states, where they run head-to-head against an opposing judicial candidate.

Six of the seven Colorado justices have won statewide retention elections to stay on the bench. The seventh was appointed in 2021 and will be on the ballot next year.

From the majority opinion in the Trump case, Justice Melissa Hart was retained in 2020 with 75% of the vote, Justice Richard Gabriel was retained in 2018 with 74%, Justice William Hood was retained in 2016 with 71%, and Justice Monica Márquez was retained in 2014 with 68%.

Among the dissenters, Chief Justice Brian Boatright was retained in 2014 with 69% of the vote and Justice Carlos Samour was retained in 2020 with 73%. Justice Maria Berkenkotter, who also dissented, took the bench in 2021 and will be up for election next year, along with Boatright and Márquez who are coming to the end of their 10-year terms.

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