Beyond Accountability and Independence: Judicial Selection and State Court Performance

JudicatureVol. 90 Nbr. 5, March 2007

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Summary


Political pressures on judicial candidates led many states to abandon judicial elections in favor of merit selection plans (among which the Missouri Plan is the most prominent) where judges are appointed to an initial term of office by the governor (who chooses from a list prepared by a nonpartisan nominating commission). For example, one study examining the personal characteristics of judges sitting on state courts of last resort shows that the method of selection has little or no impact on the percentage of judges selected with strong educational and professional qualifications.3 A follow-up study shows that in spite of a jump in the number of states using merit selection plans between the 1960s and the 1980s, there was (at best) only a trivial increase in the qualifications of state judges over that same time period/ In short, existing evidence does not support the contention that any method of judicial selection is more successful than another in selecting experienced and well-educated judges.

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Extract


Beyond Accountability and Independence: Judicial Selection and State Court Performance

Political scientist Douglas Rae has shown that the method by which governmental officials are selected can have profound political consequences.1 It thus behooves judicial scholars to evaluate the quality of justice obtained under different selection plans. Not only could the results of such studies have important ramifications for states, they can also inform the nascent debate on whether federal judges should be elected rather than appointed.2

Political pressures on judicial candidates led many states to abandon judicial elections in favor of merit selection plans (among which the Missouri Plan is the most prominent) where judges are appointed to an initial term of office by the governor (who chooses from a list prepared by a nonpartisan nominating commission). After these judges serve their initial term, they must stand for a retention election. A host of "good government" groups, as well as the American Judicature Society, have relentlessly advocated reforming state courts by adopting such merit-selection plans nationwide.

Proponents of merit selection contend that the meritbased s...

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