Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Time Served in State Supreme Courts: Mapping the Determinants of Judicial Seniority*

Academic journal article Justice System Journal

Time Served in State Supreme Courts: Mapping the Determinants of Judicial Seniority*

Article excerpt

This study compares judicial seniority in state supreme courts by evaluating the conditions in which the political opportunity structures of state courts influence the length of judicial service. Characteristics of the political opportunity structure include factors that place the careers of judges at risk, reward judges for service, and determine the costs for remaining on courts. The results reveal that methods for keeping judges on courts and the structural features of state court systems strongly affect judicial tenure. The results also have important implications for state methods of judicial retention. Whereas appointed judges enjoy relatively safe and prolonged careers, judges serving in more attractive elective courts have shorter careers.

Observers of the American state courts frequently reflect on the characteristics of judges and how states and their varied court structures influence those who serve.1 From the racial background of judges to the experience of judges before serving on courts, questions surface about the effects of state methods of judicial selection and retention on judicial attributes (Bratton and Spill, 2002; Canon, 1972; Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003) and whether representation on courts is linked to judicial backgrounds (Gryski, Main, and Dixon, 1986; Songer and Crews-Meyer, 2000; Steffensmeier and Britt, 2001). Prior research provides vital commentary about the race, gender, religion, and prior experience of judges, as well as the distinct effects of judicial selection and retention methods on those characteristics. An attribute of judges that has not received sufficient attention, however, is the seniority of judges serving in state supreme courts. While interest has been directed to the effects of seniority, with seniority tied to the behavior of judges in both the federal (Hagle, 1993; Snyder, 1958) and state (Boyea, 2010; Brace and Hall, 1993) courts, to fully understand the influence of seniority, attention must be directed at how the structures of judicial office either encourage or restrict seniority. Therefore, within this analysis seniority is mapped as an interplay of state and court features that structure risk to careers, the value of office, and the costs of service.

Throughout this analysis, the essential role of state methods of judicial retention is emphasized as an influence on the seniority characteristics of judges. Speculation about the effects of judicial selection and retention methods (appointment versus election) on the characteristics of judges has led to a well-developed body of literature (Alozie, 1996; Bonneau, 2001; Boyea, 2007; Bratton and Spill, 2002; Canon, 1972; Glick and Emmert, 1987; Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003; Langer and Wilhelm, 2005). While support for the effects of judicial selection and retention methods was initially muted (Canon, 1972; Glick and Emmert, 1987), confirmation of their influence later emerged in relation to a judge's gender (Bratton and Spill, 2002; Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003), race (Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003), and ideological preferences (Boyea, 2007). Relating to a judge's personal attributes, individuals encounter different pathways to state courts where states use elections or appointments. Tied to the characteristics of race, minority candidates struggle to gain entry to state supreme courts where states employ elections rather than appointments (Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003). Moreover, female candidates successfully gain access to courts where liberal (Hurwitz and Lanier, 2003) or Democratic (Bratton and Spill, 2002) governors control the nomination process. Related to the ideological characteristics of state courts, elections produce courts with principally like-minded judges, while appointive processes contribute to courts with more varied ideological preferences (Boyea, 2007). 2 Resulting from these studies, the empirical linkage between methods of judicial retention and the descriptive characteristics of state benches is more fully understood. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.