Merit Selection and the Consequences of Institutional Reform

In the United States, there has been issues pertained to selecting state supreme court justices. Court reformers have worked to keep democratic traditions consistent when it comes to choosing judges, because in a democracy keeping a legitimate judiciary, judges impartial and independent is important. Greg Goelzhauser’s book, Choosing State Supreme Court Justices: Merit Selection and the Consequences of Institutional Reform, raises more of an understanding on state supreme court justices and analyzes the merit selection system for the choosing of them in our judicial system. Although many states shifted from their popular voting method of electing judges to experiment the merit selection process, Goelzhauser’s book goes more in depth on whether the appointment of judges in a certain selection institution prefers applicants who fall more in terms of diversity, carries higher judicial qualifications than the average, and has more professional experience.

Goelzhauser utilizes research gathered on about 1,500 state supreme court justices between the serving years of 1960 and 2014, to answer his book’s primary question, Does the merit selection system make better types of judges? This question relates to the political representation each qualified applicant has towards the state court systems in politics. Goelzhauser argues the significant importance of the question based on institutional reform. Different scholars are involved to provide a much broader view on the system’s principles. The author seeks out to bring awareness on the potential development the merit selection system can create in many states, by improving the functionality of government in state courts along with the evaluation of state supreme court justices.

Goelzhauser talks about the concept of judiciary in states, based on the judicial experience and behavior of judges. “Another factor that may condition federal judges’ behavior is their preappointment professional experiences (Hurwitz & Drew Noble Lanier, 2014, p. 78).” As stated in Goelzhauser’s book, having judicial experience is a part of the important qualifications in achieving a position in state court. For instance, serving a year or two as a previous judge. In regard to the selection system, candidates with prior judicial experience can potentially be more qualified than those who do not have it.

Moreover, merit selection systems generally protect applicants from political elections, because the immense pressure elections bring, can compromise their independence on the bench. In chapter two, Goelzhauser discusses the causes that led to a new system in our federal judiciary. “Dissatisfaction with the existing judicial selection institutions eventually led to merit selection’s rise (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 22).” Previous methods used were not really pleasing in the judiciary, because the process of selection was getting too political. The frustration caused by existing systems led to the uprising of the merit system for state supreme court justices. States began to experiment and put the consideration into adopting or eliminating the system in the late 1950s. “The leading scholarly treatment suggests that the three most important factors in merit’s spread were first, business interests driving the campaign for merit reforms; second, urban leaders supporting merit reforms, and third the ability for these interests and leaders to win voters and broaden their coalitions (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 27).” Most candidates were not capable of funding for their own campaigns and raising money was important. The states that had success businesses were able to support the merit refinement, which helped the spread of the system. Goelzhauser provides accurate evidence to his arrangement theory, because unlike the existing methods, the importance of political credentials in the merit selection process is minimum. Consequences on the reform are analyzed throughout the book.

In chapter three, Goelzhauser and other scholars put their focus on figuring out how professional experience can benefit across selection systems, and how it can help qualify candidates. “State supreme court justices seated from 1960 through 2014 held a variety of positions in their professional careers before joining their state high courts (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 38).” There was a richer classification of experimental categories in employment offered. The author distinguishes private practice and public service experience. In Goelzhauser’s book, professional experience was divided into two categories, public service experience, which included both the public-interest and government side of employment, and private practice. Goelzhauser classified public service experience into major-office ties, major office, federal government, academic experience, legal experience and prosecutorial experience. “Several arguments have been advanced for why public service experience may be particularly important to acquire before joining the bench (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 39).” Having the expertise in public law is important, because it can bring more opportunities in case situations where awareness is brought on evidence. Goelzhauser provided proper evidence, by presenting an empirical analysis to examine state supreme court justices in different selection systems with distinctive types of professional experience. Goelzhauser was able to prove there were more similarities than differences in judicial selection systems in regard to the professional experiences that candidates had prior to becoming state supreme court justices. Based on the merit selection system, there is a smaller percentage in judges with major office experience or major office ties.

In chapter four, Goelzhauser went more in depth on the relationship between judicial selection systems and judicial qualifications of candidate. “As the American Judicature Society puts it, the system, “is called ‘merit system’ because the judicial nomination commission choose applicants on the basis of their qualifications, not on the basis of political or social connections (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 60).” The author demonstrates the historical context of the judicial selection systems as qualifications differentiate as the years go by. In order for Goelzhauser to prove his experiential evidence, he assembled three separate research papers on judicial quality. The first one was the relationship of judicial retention mechanisms and judicial behavior analyzed. Following that, was judicial decision-making and judicial systems, which overlapped eventually in some states. These two researches led to the relationship analysis between judicial selections and qualifications. Two categories were developed based on collected background information, quality of law school and judicial experience. “Whether a justice attended an elite school is perhaps the most common measure of law school quality (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 72).” It is usually common and useful to use law school quality as a qualification. It initiates the thought of intelligence in law itself and in a broader aspect in the federal judiciary.

Goelzhauser stated there were methodological limitations. The merit selection and appointment systems had similar performance crosswise each qualification measures. The merit system did better than election systems with academic performance in judicial qualifications.

Based on chapter five, the seating of diverse state supreme court justices is not as consistent one would believe it would be as the modern years arise. The merit selection system along with other selection systems do not produce categories to rise diversity in their state supreme court systems. “The literature on descriptive representation on political institutions suggests that it may have beneficial consequences, such as increasing trust, knowledge, participation, and institutional legitimacy (Goelzhauser, 2016, p. 86).” Goelzhauser and other scholars elaborated more on diversifying courts, by providing evidence on each race in the judiciary, and were able to demonstrate the difficult barriers of early judicial diversifying on state supreme court justices. Based on the empirical analysis, a database from 1960 to 2014 was used and information was attained through biographical searches. Women and racial minorities continue to face issues in legal professions but have more access to work in legal government. Future studies are still happening as a better understanding on state courts unfolds.

Moreover, the media system of the United States has been influential in terms of sharing news and important information about the legal system when needed. The American political system has an important role in democratic societies. There is a basic understanding in crafting a legitimate judiciary by linking the people and government using the media system. As discussed over the course, the role of media in politics, is to report what is going on in our political system. Based on the book, campaigning has become affected by the media system, because candidates seek the attention of people who are actively involved in media. It helps out during elections, policy agenda in political campaigns, public opinions of the people to increase votes and exposure, etc.

Goelzhauser utilized subcategories to recognize attributes that state supreme court justices carried before all research was complete. In order to have a better understanding of the concept of the merit system, issues of institutional reform with state judges were to be stated thoroughly as the research was collected. Discussions with different scholars occurred in the book, and broader contributions were added concerning institutional performance as for state judicial selections. Subcategories were a big part in the book, because they addressed concern inside larger judicial selection debates, and summary tables were introduced to create an image on the different issues pertained to judicial selection. A critique I have on Goelzhauser’s book, is that he gave an understanding on existing information and used it to identify consequences and differences in relation to the merit system. Findings were accurate, but conclusions were always led to being unknown or not enough information was given. He could have gone more in depth on the seating of justices, and whether the merit system initiated a more diverse judiciary. Another critique would be, the possibility of adding more to the professional experience category. The data collected could be better understood if visuals were properly labeled along with easy to understand statistics.

Wilhelm and Kane made critiques on arguments about the normative policy debate, professional experience of selected judges, diverse judiciaries, and discover new differences about the merit system. They both shared critiques about high courts having a merit system and believe what has been said of it, has not really been tested as it should be. The authors believe that Goelzhauser is important in political literature as he contributes to researching and analyzing state supreme courts and their selection systems as they may influence the choosing of judges. Their critiques are valid as they pertain to the book. Focusing on Goelzhauser’s theory, the authors engage in understanding the different selection methods in states, consequences of institutional reform, and the merit system of judges. Although there have been various judicial selection systems around, Goelzhauser contributes to presenting a book that engages on the choosing of state supreme court justices, by adopting the merit system. He focuses on the whether the merit system makes better judges, by analyzing professional experience, judicial qualifications and diversifying the bench. Given the importance of who is on the bench, I believe that Goelzhauser was able to bring fourth the topic of the merit system and share data collection that can potentially be useful to future scholars and their new findings.

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Merit selection and the consequences of institutional reform. (2021, Apr 09). Retrieved August 10, 2022 , from

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