The Economics and Politics of Judicial Retention Elections
34 Pages Posted: 17 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 2012
American states select their judges in various ways. The method we are concerned with here is that of "merit selection." Under a typical implementation of this system, a nonpartisan commission culls applicants for judgeships, and an appointee is then selected by the governor. Then, periodically, this judge undergoes a retention election: an up-or-down vote by the electorate of the state. These elections are our main focus. We contribute a novel microeconomic model with which to analyze them. We compare this institution, in both structure and welfare terms, to others used to appoint and retain judges, and we characterize under what circumstances each is optimal. Finally, we analyze a recent and ongoing phenomenon where these elections have been transforming from what were historically rubber stamp formalities into hotly contested, politicized contests. We show that the politicization of issues being brought before the court leads to an increased likelihood of judges being ousted in these elections.
Keywords: merit selection, state courts, politicization
JEL Classification: D7, H1, H7, K4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation