American Judicial Power
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American Judicial Power

The State Court Perspective

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz

American Judicial Power: The State Court Perspective is a welcome addition to the breadth of studies on the American legal system and provides an accessible and highly illuminating overview of the state courts and their functions.
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Chapter 4: Modern state judicial selection in theory and practice

Michael Buenger and Paul J. De Muniz


Historically, appointment was the first method of judicial selection used by the states. However, the public election of judges began when “reformers were of the opinion that the process of appointing the bench was based on service to the party, and efforts to reform the appointment process [began].” Between 1840 and 1886 nineteen of thirty states adopted constitutions requiring the public election of trial and appellate court judges. By the turn of the century, some reformers had abandoned the idea of judicial elections. “Merit selection was first debated in 1913 following intense displeasure among citizens, judges and lawyers that political machines and party bosses had taken control of the judicial selection process and could use their clout to unseat any judges who issued unfavorable rulings.” In 1937, the American Bar Association presented a plan utilizing a judicial nominating commission to nominate three candidates from which the governor appoints one.5 However, that plan was not adopted in any form by a state until 1940 and by the 1960s other states started to adopt merit selection methods. Today very few states use an appointment system without retention or popular elections.

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