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Choosing State Supreme Court Justices: Merit Selection and the Consequences of Institutional Reform, Greg Goelzhauser

Reviewed by Jenna Becker Kane



Debates over judicial selection in the states and which mechanism of selection produces the “ideal” judge have been raging in state legislatures and legal circles since the nation's founding. Against the backdrop of elite appointment and electoral mechanisms that dominated state judicial selection throughout most of the nation's history, Greg 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. Despite a wealth of recent scholarly attention to the empirical implications of various methods of judicial selection used in the states, the basic normative claims espoused by proponents of merit selection have never been adequately tested. Goelzhauser fills this void in the scholarly literature and, more importantly, lends empirically based insight into the policy debate over the types of judges produced by competing institutional designs of state high courts. Perhaps much to the dismay of proponents of merit selection, Goelzhauser finds that no single method of judicial selection produces a systematic advantage over another in terms of judicial characteristics.

Goelzhauser uses novel—and by no means easy to compile—data on the seating of all state supreme court justices from 1960 through 2014. His careful

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