Reducing Partisanship in Judicial Elections Can Improve Judge Quality: Evidence from U.S. State Supreme Courts
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.
We thank Yisehak Abraham, Ankeet Ball, Josh Brown, Josh Burton, Matthew Buck, David Cai, Eammonn Campbell, Zoey Chopra, Daniel Deibler, Seth Fromer, Gohar Harutyunyan, Archan Hazra, Montague Hung, Dong Hyeun, Mithun Kamath, James Kim, Michael Kurish, Jennifer Kutsunai, Steven Lau, Sharon Liao, Sarah MacDougall, Sam Meshoyrer, Justin McNamee, Sourabh Mishra, Brendan Moore, Arielle Napoli, Karen Orchansky, Bryn Paslawski, Olga Peshko, Quinton Robbins, Ricardo Rogriguez, Jerry Shi, Shawn Shi, Carol Shou, Alex Swift, Holly Toczko, Tom Verderame, Sam Waters, Sophie Wilkowske, John Yang, Geoffrey Zee, Fred Zhu, and Jon Zytnick for their meticulous help in assembling data and other research assistance. We thank Daniel Chen, Tom Clark, John Ferejohn, Sanford Gordon, Chris, Hanretty, Jon Kastellec, Lewis Kornhauser, Eric Posner and the participants at Princeton University Conference on Bureaucrats, SIOE meetings at Harvard Law School, NYU Law and Economics Workshop, and Conference on Empirical Legal Studies in Europe for helpful comments. Columbia University’s Program for Economic Research, Columbia Law School, and the National Science Foundation Grant SES-1260875 provided financial support for this research. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
Elliott Ash & W. Bentley MacLeod, 2021. "Reducing partisanship in judicial elections can improve judge quality: Evidence from U.S. state supreme courts," Journal of Public Economics, vol 201. citation courtesy of