Letters

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The limits of judicial selection research

The January-February 2011 Judicature editorial concerning judicial selection research concludes that we must take into account new empirical research if we want our recommendations to be grounded and credible. At a high level of abstraction, it is hard to disagree with that. But three points are worth noting.

First, the editorial is talking about academic research and the demands of reliable empirical research in the social sciences are severe - projects have to be very sharply focused on small parts of the overall "selection of judges" problem, on small samples, small geographies, and small time frames. Most of the people in the business understand the limited policy-making significance of any individual piece of research. The editorial concedes that this. research is complex and subject to multiple interpretations but doesn't stress how unlikely it is that any individual research result - however valuable as a small contribution to our general knowledge fund - can be dispositive on any question of real-world policy development.

Second, there is always the possibility that some of this research is not rigorously objective. The editorial mentions research by political science professors Bonneau and Hall, which I have seen (and cited), but we need to be certain about the objectivity of a book that carries the tide In Defense of Judicial Elections.

Finally, the editorial might be read by some to discourage AJS recommendations for which full empirical research support is lacking. …