Vacancies on the Bench: Open Seat Elections for State Supreme Courts
Justice System Journal, Vol. 27, No. 2, pp. 143-159, 2006
29 Pages Posted: 12 Sep 2007
This article examines the dynamics of state supreme court elections in which no incumbent is present, that is, open seat contests. Although incumbent judges generally are able to win whenever they seek reelection, what factors affect elections when no incumbent is present? Do both candidates have an equal chance of winning the seat? Do candidate-specific factors, such as quality and campaign spending, have more of an effect on the level of electoral support in these races compared with incumbent-challenger contests? Finally, how do institutional arrangements condition these other factors? In open seat elections to state supreme courts from 1990-2000 in all states that have partisan or nonpartisan elections, winning candidates almost invariably have prior judicial experience, and, if they do not, they have run against opponents who also lack such experience. Also, the losing candidate's chances of winning improve simply by spending more money. Finally, institutional arrangements, such as the nature of the electoral constituency and the term of office, also matter. In sum, the outcomes of open seat elections are determined by characteristics of the candidates, the electoral context, the value of the seat, and institutional arrangements.
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