Reducing partisanship in judicial elections can improve judge quality: Evidence from U.S. state supreme courts

Elliott Ash, W. Bentley MacLeod

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations

Abstract

Should technocratic public officials be selected through politics or by merit? This paper explores how selection procedures influence the quality of selected officials in the context of U.S. state supreme courts for the years 1947–1994. In a unique set of natural experiments, state governments enacted a variety of reforms making judicial elections less partisan and establishing merit-based procedures that delegate selection to experts. We compare post-reform judges to pre-reform judges in their work quality, measured by forward citations to their opinions. In this setting we can hold constant contemporaneous incentives and the portfolio of cases, allowing us to produce causal estimates under an identification assumption of parallel trends in quality by judge starting year. We find that judges selected by nonpartisan processes (nonpartisan elections or technocratic merit commissions) produce higher-quality work than judges selected by partisan elections. These results are consistent with a representative voter model in which better technocrats are selected when the process has less partisan bias or better information regarding candidate ability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104478
JournalJournal of Public Economics
Volume201
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Finance
  • Economics and Econometrics

Keywords

  • Electoral incentives
  • Judicial performance
  • Politicians vs bureaucrats

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