Merit Selection and the Consequences of Institutional ReformGreg Goelzhauser
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.
" A neat and accessible synthesis of the debates on and merits of judicial elections v. merit selection. Importantly, Goelzhauser presents new and unique data and statistical analyses of those data. Choosing State Supreme Court Justices is well-done, and well-worth reading. It significantly enhances our understanding of this critical part of our judicial system." —Gregory A. Caldeira, Distinguished University Professor in Political Science and Dreher Chair in Political Communication and Policy Thinking at the Ohio State University and co-author of Citizens, Courts, and Confirmations: Positivity Theory and the Judgments of the American People
"Choosing State Supreme Court Justices is timely and well-conceived. Goelzhauser has engaged in an impressive amount of data collection, and his analyses are strong. He has done an excellent job clarifying how he codes ‘merit system’ and the reasons for his choices. This book promises to be the most comprehensive analysis of the so-called merit selection of judges to date. Given the importance of judicial selection to both scholars and practitioners, a book like this is sorely needed." —Chris Bonneau, Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of Voters’ Verdicts: Citizens, Campaigns, and Institutions in State Supreme Court Elections
"Goelzhauser revives the discussion of a seemingly age-old debate about the 'best' way to select state supreme court justices.... Goelzhauser presents a precise, comprehensive, empirical treatment of the best available data to date. This book remains accessible to laypeople while presenting sophisticated statistical analyses. Although Goelzhauser ultimately (and wisely) declares no winner in the debate, the nuances he is able to glean will help frame this important debate in public policy domains as well as in academic circles. Highly recommended." -- Choice
" In this excellent new book, Greg Goelzhauser addresses a broad fundamental question related to political representation, judicial selection, court reform, and the politics of institutions: Does 'merit selection' produce more qualified state supreme court justices or better diversify the bench relative to other methods of initial selection.... Goelzhauser delivers a thought-provoking, well written, and expertly executed project that should be a welcome addition to any political science collection. Without question, the intriguing findings and discussion framing the analysis and conclusions in Choosing State Supreme Court Justices are major contribution to political science, with substantial implications for theories of representation, institutions, and judicial politics. They also speak to audiences outside the academy, especially state lawmakers and other public policy advocates seeking to improve the process of judicial selection. " —Law and Politics Book Review
"Choosing State Supreme Court Justices (is) a long-range, cross-sectional empirical summation of the characteristics of state supreme court judges across their corresponding judicial selection systems. Quite frankly, however, the book is much more than that. It not only offers the aforementioned analysis, which involves an impressive data collection effort of biographical information on approximately 1,500 state supreme court justices.... It is also rich in historical and contextual analysis.... Goelzhauser’s (book) is a much-needed and important contribution to our literature.... The real strength of Goelzhauser’s book, however, is its thoughtful and thorough empirical approach."
—Journal of Politics
"Goelzhauser produces the first comprehensive examination of the most recent innovation in state court selection—the use of 'merit selection' to staff state high courts.... His contribution to the literature on institutional design of state courts and the policy debate related to state court selection mechanisms is significant. This book stands to be the authoritative treatment of comparative institutional design with respect to judicial selection and its influence on judicial characteristics of the state bench."
—Political Science Quarterly
"In this book, Goelzhauser wades into the debate by presenting some much needed empirical evidence related to judicial selection methods...Goelzhauser presents his evidence and adds much-needed nuance to the debate."
"In Choosing State Supreme Court Justices , Greg Goelzhauser adds significantly to this literature by focusing on one type of method of selection, merit selection.... While Goelzhauser takes care not to answer the question of whether states should or should not adopt merit selection, the analysis provided in Choosing State Supreme Court Justices will go a long way to informing the debate and providing important information for those who make these decisions. Goelzhauser does not crown a clear 'winner' of the debate over selection, but his comprehensive and accessible work will certainly be used to further the discussion."
—Perspectives on Politics