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From Ballot to Bench

From Ballot to Bench
Judicial Elections and the Quest for Accountability

A searching scrutiny of the criticisms raised against judicial elections.

January 1980
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332 pages | 6 x 9 |

Over several decades, many U.S. states abandoned the practice of selecting their judges by direct popular election and adopted the Missouri Plan of judicial selection. In From Ballot to Bench, Philip L. Dubois subjects the various criticisms raised against judicial elections to a more searching scrutiny than previously has been attempted.

Dubois carefully reviews the three central counts on which judicial elections have been faulted: for lowering the quality of the bench, for impairing judicial independence, and for failing to secure judicial accountability. After concluding that the potential for judicial elections to hold judges popularly accountable is what might commend them over alternative selection methods, Dubois concentrates on the analysis of empirical evidence to evaluate judicial elections as mechanisms of accountability.

The study examines all the statewide partisan and nonpartisan elections for state supreme court justices in non-southern states from 1948 to 1974. Included is a detailed examination of voter participation, electoral competition, the behavior of judicial electorates, and the patterns of gubernatorial vacancy appointments. An analysis of decision making on eight state supreme courts also tests the relationship between different selection systems and judicial behavior.

Dubois finds that partisan elections maximize voter participation, meaningfully structure voter choices, minimize accession to the bench by appointment, and allow popular control over gubernatorial appointments. Additional evidence on the extent of partisan voting by judges selected under different methods leads Dubois to conclude that partisan elections are superior to both nonpartisan elections and nonelective selection methods as instruments of accountability.

The importance of the questions addressed, the breadth of the data collected, and the unorthodox conclusions offered make this a significant book for political scientists, judges, lawyers, and public officials.

  • Preface
  • 1. Judicial Elections and the Debate over State Judicial Selection
    • Introduction
    • The Question of Judicial Quality
    • Judicial Independence
    • Judicial Accountability: Do Elections Guarantee Popular Control?
    • The Need for Empirical Research
  • 2. Turnout in State Judicial Elections
    • Introduction
    • The Determinants of Voter Turnout
    • Turnout in State Judicial Elections
    • Participation in State Judicial Elections, 1948–1974
    • Turnout in Judicial Elections: Some Conclusions
  • 3. Voting Behavior in State Judicial Elections
    • Introduction
    • The Partisan Division of the Vote
    • Voting in Judicial Elections under the Nonpartisan Ballot: An Overview
    • The Voter in State Judicial Elections: Summary and Implications
  • 4. Appointment and Election: Patterns of Accession to Elective Courts
    • Introduction
    • Patterns of Initial Accession to State Supreme Courts
    • Patterns of Incumbent Defeat in State Judicial Elections
    • Appointment and Election to State Supreme Courts: “One-Man Judicial Selection”?
  • 5. Partisanship and Judicial Accountability
    • Introduction
    • Party, Political Attitudes, and Judicial Policy
    • Judicial Constituencies and Judicial Policy
    • Party as a Social Background Characteristic
    • Partisanship on State Supreme Courts: Case Studies
    • Summary: The “Party Variable” in Judicial Decision-Making
    • Partisan Voting on State Supreme Courts: A Comparative Approach
    • Measuring Party Voting on State Supreme Courts
    • Partisan Voting Blocs on State Courts
  • 6. Partisan Voting on State Courts: Eight Case Studies
    • Introduction
    • The Partisan Courts: Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Colorado
    • The Nonpartisan Courts: Wisconsin, Utah, and Washington
    • The Merit Plan Courts: Iowa and Kansas
  • 7. A Comparative Approach to Party Bloc Voting
    • Partisan Dissent Blocs on State Supreme Courts
    • A New Measure of Party Bloc Voting: An Adaptation of the Rice Index
    • Partisanship on State Supreme Courts
  • 8. Conclusion: The Continuing Debate over State Judicial Selection
    • Voter Participation in Judicial Elections
    • Voter Behavior in Judicial Elections
    • Judicial Elections and Initial Accession to the Bench
    • Judicial Elections and the Control of Gubernatorial Appointments
    • Judicial Elections and Judicial Behavior
    • The Question of Judicial Quality Revisited
    • A Final Note: On Trial and Appellate Courts
  • Appendixes
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Philip L. Dubois is Chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. His doctoral research at the University of Wisconsin won him the 1978 Edward S. Corwin Award for the best dissertation in public law.