Predicting Challengers in State Supreme Court Elections: Context and the Politics of Institutional Design
Political Research Quarterly, Vol. 56, pp. 337-349, September 2003
30 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2007
In this paper, we answer two important questions about the role of challengers in elections to the states' highest courts: (1) under what conditions do incumbents draw challengers, and (2) do these same conditions influence whether the challengers entering these races have sufficient experience to pose a threat to the officeholders (i.e., are they quality challengers). While the factors related to each electoral contest and the forces characterizing the overall political climate of the state should affect the type of challenge, if any, we also expect institutions to matter. Specifically, factors governing the attractiveness of supreme court seats, as well as the formal means by which judicial elections are organized, all should serve to enhance or inhibit competition. In an analysis of all 146 partisan and nonpartisan elections to state supreme courts from 1988 through 1995, we find that competition from both inexperienced and experienced challengers is predictable from some basic information about the incumbents, the states, and the institutional context. Like legislators, judges can influence their chances of being challenged only to a limited degree. However, the states can increase or decrease competition to some extent by manipulating electoral system characteristics and a variety of factors that make supreme court seats more or less valuable. In fact, under certain scenarios, state supreme courts may be more democratic in character and function than is generally recognized or perhaps preferred.
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