Judicial Merit Selection

Institutional Design and Performance for State Courts

Greg Goelzhauser
Book Cover

PB: $32.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1808-1
Publication: Feb 19

HC: $89.50
EAN: 978-1-4399-1807-4
Publication: Feb 19

Ebook: $32.95
EAN: 978-1-4399-1809-8
Publication: Feb 19

216 pages
5.5 x 8.25
23 tables, 9 figs., 1 maps

How should judges be selected?

Read the Introduction (pdf).


The judicial selection debate continues. Merit selection is used by a majority of states but remains the least well understood method for choosing judges. Proponents claim that it emphasizes qualifications and diversity over politics, but there is little empirical evidence regarding its performance.

In Judicial Merit Selection, Greg Goelzhauser amasses a wealth of data to examine merit selection’s institutional performance from an internal perspective. While his previous book, Choosing State Supreme Court Justices, compares outcomes across selection mechanisms, here he delves into what makes merit selection unique—its use of nominating commissions to winnow applicants prior to gubernatorial appointment.

Goelzhauser’s analyses include a rich case study from inside a nominating commission’s proceedings as it works to choose nominees; the use of public records to examine which applicants commissions choose and which nominees governors choose; evaluation of which attorneys apply for consideration and which judges apply for promotion; and examination of whether design differences across systems impact performance in the seating of qualified and diverse judges.

The results have critical public policy implications.


“In this book, Greg Goelzhauser​ offers a fascinating glimpse into the black box of judicial merit selection commissions, the workings of which were—until now—largely a matter of uninformed speculation. With Judicial Merit Selection , Goelzhauser establishes himself as a rising star in the field of judicial selection—a scholar’s scholar who follows his data, resists sweeping generalizations in favor of complexity and nuance, and in so doing illuminates new truths."
Charles Gardner Geyh, John F. Kimberling Professor, Indiana University Maurer School of Law, and author of Who is to Judge? The Perennial Debate over Whether to Elect or Appoint America’s Judges

“Scholars and policymakers ferociously and continually debate the best way to select and retain judges. Greg Goelzhauser cuts through these heated disputes, relying on unique and hard-to-collect data to examine whether one of these selection systems—commission-based merit selection—works as its proponents hope. Presenting the most complete examination of the design and operation of these commissions to date, Goelzhauser’s analyses have important and practical policy implications that deserve serious scrutiny by scholars and in statehouses around the country."
Michael J. Nelson, Associate Professor of Political Science and Social Data Analytics at The Pennsylvania State University and author of Black and Blue: How African Americans Judge the U.S. Legal System.

"(An) innovative and timely inquiry.... using multi-method research approaches involving meticulous case study analyses and impressive original datasets, Goelzhauser provides an insightful and thought-provoking exploration of the stages and implementation of judicial merit selection.... Goelzhauser's work sheds new light on judicial merit selection processes and raises important questions."
— Judicature

Table of Contents


1. Introduction
2. A Case Study in Implementation
3. Commission and Gubernatorial Choices
4. Expressive and Progressive Ambition
5. The Threat of Commission Capture
6. Conclusion

Appendix: Alternative Estimation Strategies

About the Author(s)

​Greg Goelzhauser is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Utah State University.​ ​ He is the author of Choosing State Supreme Court Justices: Merit Selection and the Consequences of Institutional Reform (Temple).​