The Politics of Judicial Selection
Champagne, Anthony, Policy Studies Journal
One of the most important policy issues in state judicial politics involves the method for selecting judges. One method of judicial selection is partisan election of judges in which judicial candidates run on the ballot with a party label. Another is nonpartisan election in which judges run for office without a party label. Today, as when Stuart Nagel wrote on this topic in the 1960s, political parties are often involved in nonpartisan elections, and judicial candidates' party affiliations are frequently readily known even if the party affiliation of the judicial candidate is not printed on the ballot (Nagel, 1961, p. 850; Champagne, 2001b, pp. 1418-1420). Another common system of selection is appointment by the governor. Much less common is legislative selection of judges. Finally, there is a system often called merit selection of judges in which the governor must appoint judges from a list chosen by a blue ribbon panel. After serving briefly as a judge, the appointee must then run for election on a retention ballot in which there is a "yes" or "no" vote on the retention of the judge. There are also hybrid systems peculiar to individual states. For example, in Illinois judges run initially in contested elections with the party label and then run in subsequent elections in retention elections. In New Mexico, judges are initially appointed by the governor and then run in their first election in contested elections and in later elections in retention elections. And there is also variation within states. Even in Missouri, for example, the first state with merit selection of judges, judges in smaller counties are still chosen by partisan election (American Judicature Society, 2002). There is much controversy over the appropriate method for the selection of judges, but the most controversial and most criticized method for selecting judges is the partisan election of judges. Of the major systems of state judicial selection, partisan election of judges has resulted in the largest number of competitive elections for judgeships. It also produces the highest defeat rate for incumbent judges (Hall, 2001, pp. 317, 319). One reason for those defeats is that voters often are unaware of down-ballot candidates and so, rather than voting for a judicial candidate because of qualifications or proven ability, ballots are cast on the basis of name attractiveness or, more likely, party affiliation. Indeed, this pattern of voting has led writers on judicial selection to discuss the effects of the "name game" on judicial voting, in which candidates are elected or defeated on the basis of name familiarity and "party sweeps," in which voters in a competitive party environment will vote incumbent judges out of office solely because those judges are affiliated with the unsuccessful party in that particular election cycle (Schotland, 2001, pp. 855-856; Champagne, 2001b, 1416-1417). Although some nonpartisan judicial elections and even some retention elections have been notoriously expensive, partisan election states have tended to have some of the most expensive judicial campaigns in recent years--especially in Alabama and in Texas (Schotland, 2001, pp. …
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Publication information: Article title: The Politics of Judicial Selection. Contributors: Champagne, Anthony - Author. Journal title: Policy Studies Journal. Volume: 31. Issue: 3 Publication date: August 2003. Page number: 413+. © 1999 Policy Studies Organization. COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group.
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