Since 1940, more than half of all states have switched at least in part from popular election or elite appointment to experiment with merit selection in choosing some or all of their state supreme court justices. Under merit selection, a commission—often comprising some combination of judges, attorneys, and the general public—is tasked with considering applications from candidates vying to fill a judicial vacancy. Ostensibly, the commission forwards the best candidates to the governor, who ultimately appoints them. Presently, numerous states are debating whether to adopt or abolish merit selection.
In his short, sharp book, Choosing State Supreme Court Justices, Greg Goelzhauser utilizes new data on more than 1,500 state supreme court justices seated from 1960 through 2014 to answer the question, Does merit selection produce better types of judges? He traces the rise of merit selection and explores whether certain judicial selection institutions favor candidates who have better qualifications, are more diverse, and have different types of professional experience.
Goelzhauser’s results ultimately contribute to the broader debate concerning comparative institutional performance with respect to state judicial selection.