Review: Choosing States Supreme Court Justices

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Book Review

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Choice Magazine (ACRL)






Goelzhauser (Utah State Univ.) revives the discussion of a seemingly age-old debate about the “best” way to select state supreme court justices. He starts with a brief detour into the historical origins of the merit selection system, whereby governors appoint justices from a list of candidates prepared by a committee. After this, the book changes track, using a series of empirical analyses to compare merit selection to judicial elections and unfettered appointments. He presents head-to-head matchups among the systems on measures of judges' career paths, judges' “quality,” and the ability of each system to yield a bench that is diverse in terms of the gender, race, and ethnicity of its judges. Although not much new theoretical ground is covered here, Goelzhauser presents a precise, comprehensive, empirical treatment of the best available data to date. This book remains accessible to laypeople while presenting sophisticated statistical analyses. Although Goelzhauser ultimately (and wisely) declares no winner in the debate, the nuances he is able to glean will help frame this important debate in public policy domains as well as in academic circles. Highly recommended.