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Nominating Commissions, Judicial Retention, and Forward-Looking Behavior on State Supreme Courts: An Empirical Examination of Selection and Retention Methods

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 January 2021

Ryan J. Owens*
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
Alexander Tahk
University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
Patrick C. Wohlfarth
University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
Amanda C. Bryan
Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA
Ryan J. Owens, Department of Political Science, University of Wisconsin, 214 North Hall, 1050 Bascom Mall, Madison, WI 53706, USA. Email:


High-profile advocates are pushing states to move away from judicial elections and toward a “merit” method because it purportedly produces the best quality judges. Quality, however, is difficult to measure empirically. Rather than attempt to measure quality, we examine whether certain types of state supreme courts are more forward-looking than others. States are likely to desire forward-looking behavior among judges because it can protect judicial legitimacy, help states to control policy, and could be more efficient than myopic behavior. Using a recent innovation in matching called covariate-balancing propensity scores, we find that the U.S. Supreme Court is equally likely to review and reverse decisions by judges regardless of their selection or retention methods. These results suggest that state supreme court justices, no matter their paths of getting to (and staying on) their courts, are roughly equal in terms of forward-looking behavior.

Research Article
The Author(s) 2015

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