Brett Parker - Selecting for Extremists: Evaluating the Impact of Judicial Selection Methods on Ideology

Encina Hall West, Room 400 (Graham Stuart Lounge)

Scholars have long debated the best way to pick judges, and U.S. states currently display striking heterogeneity in their choice of judicial selection method. Researchers have produced dozens of papers exploring how the most commonly-used selection methods—partisan election, nonpartisan election, merit selection, and unconstrained gubernatorial appointment—affect the ideology and behavior of the judges they produce. Nevertheless, the outcome variables these articles study have remained limited. Most published work concerns either how selection method affects (1) judicial responsiveness to public opinion or (2) ideological direction. To my knowledge, however, no empirical work explores how choice of selection method impacts ideological extremity. This paper fills that gap. Using two-way fixed effects models and synthetic controls to conduct causal inference, I examine whether some methods of selection produce more moderate (or extreme) judges than others. I exploit two datasets of state supreme court judges to do so, both of which feature a commonly used measure of judicial ideology extracted from political donations. I find strong evidence that unconstrained gubernatorial appointment appears to produce more extreme judges than either form of judicial election. In addition, I find support for the claim that nonpartisan judicial elections produce more moderate judges than all alternative methods of judicial selection.


Brett Parker is a Ph.D. candidate with an interest in American politics and political methodology.