Selecting Chief Justices by Peer Vote

State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 2020

36 Pages Posted: 6 Aug 2020

See all articles by Madelyn Fife

Madelyn Fife


Greg Goelzhauser

Utah State University - Department of Political Science

Stephen Loertscher

Utah State University

Date Written: July 10, 2020


What characteristics do state supreme court justices prioritize when choosing leaders? At the federal level, collegial court chiefs are appointed or rotated by seniority. A plurality of states permit peer-vote selection, but the consequences of employing this mechanism are not well known. We develop a theory of chief justice selection emphasizing experience, bias, and politics. Leveraging within-contest variation and more than a half century's worth of original contest data, we find that chief justice peer votes often default to seniority rotation. Ideological divergence from the court median, governor, and legislature is largely unassociated with selection. Justices who dissent more than their peers are, however, disadvantaged. We find no evidence of discrimination against women or people of color. The results have implications for policy debates about political leader selection.

Keywords: Judicial Decision Making, Judicial Politics, State Politics, Judicial Selection, Empirical Legal Studies, Chief Justice

JEL Classification: K00, H00, H70

Suggested Citation

Fife, Madelyn and Goelzhauser, Greg and Loertscher, Stephen, Selecting Chief Justices by Peer Vote (July 10, 2020). State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 2020, Available at SSRN:

Madelyn Fife

Independent ( email )

Greg Goelzhauser (Contact Author)

Utah State University - Department of Political Science ( email )

0725 University Blvd.
Logan, UT 84322-0725
United States

Stephen Loertscher

Utah State University

Logan, UT 84322
United States

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