Assessing the Impact of a Candidate's Sex in Judicial Campaigns and Elections in North Carolina

Article excerpt

A candidate's sex may affect how accessible elective state judgeships are to women attorneys. Research has offered conflicting findings on the competitiveness of women congressional candidates: Several studies argue that women compete equally with men, while others conclude that women are at a disadvantage. This study draws upon the North Carolina trial court elections and provides one of the few empirical analyses of the women and men who compete in judicial elections. Its findings coincide with both conclusions of the research on women congressional candidates. Although the women candidates in this study were more adept than men at financing their campaigns, they still had to overcome challenges to win seats on the trial court.

A more women join the legal profession, their chances of becoming judges are affected by their ability to compete effectively in state judicial elections. Several states have replaced (or are considering replacing) elections with merit selection; nevertheless, a majority of states still rely upon contested partisan or nonpartisan elections to choose at least some of their judges (Carp, Stidham, and Manning, 2004; Smith, 1997).1 In these states, women attorneys must compete in contested judicial elections in much the same way as candidates campaign for nonjudicial polit' ical office.

Although numerous studies have examined the impact of gender upon political campaigns and elections, research upon the women who campaign in judicial elections has been strikingly limited. (Reid, 2000). Though important and helpful, the existing literature exploring the impact of gender upon political campaigns and elections offers differing views on how competitive women candidates are when they pursue elective political office. Several studies have suggested that women compete equally with men in large part because they can finance their campaigns as effectively as men (Hernnson, Lay, and Stokes, 2001; Smith and Fox, 2001; Burrell, 1998, 1994, 1985; Uhlaner and Schlozman, 1986). Yet, a number of studies have concluded that women nevertheless are at an electoral disadvantage, particularly when they compete directly against men (Herrick, 1996, 1995; Fox, 1997).

This study fills a void in the existing literature. Specifically, it examines the impact of a candidate's sex upon judicial campaigns and judicial elections. By providing one of the few empirical comparisons of the campaigns of the women and men who competed for state judgeships, this study complements and supplements the prevailing research on judicial selection and gender politics. The findings illuminate the intricacies of court elections, highlight the similarities and differences between judicial elections and political elections, and show broadly how women candidates fared in electoral politics. Therefore, this study's empirical analysis of the men and women who participated in judicial elections promises to add to our understanding of gender politics, judicial selection, and electoral politics.

This study adopts the methodology found in existing political science research. It uses campaign contribution totals and percentage of the vote as indicators of electoral competitiveness. Drawing upon the research on women political candidates and judicial selection, this study also assumes that money plays an important, though not determinative, role in mounting viable campaigns for political and judicial office (Richey, 2000; Burrell, 1998; Selzer, Newman, and Leighton, 1997; Herrick, 1995; Nicholson and Nicholson, 1994; Moog, 1992; Westlye, 1991; Schotland, 1985). Similarly, percentage of the vote provides a very good measure of electoral competitiveness because it more accurately than win/loss verdicts indicates how competitive candidates are in comparison to their opponents and to other candidates. For example, a candidate who wins by 60 percentage points is thought to be electorally stronger (more competitive) than a candidate who wins by 51 percentage points (Hall, 2001; Herrick, 1996, 1995). …