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Judicial Nominating Commissioners: A National Profile

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 73 Issue: 6 Dated: (April-May 1990) Pages: 328-334,343
B M Henschen; R Moog; S Davis
Date Published
8 pages
This nationwide survey examined the political, social, and economic backgrounds of judicial nominating commissioners and how they view the nominating process.
Since 1940, 33 States and the District of Columbia have adopted a form of merit selection for at least some of their courts. Judicial nominating commissioners represent the cornerstone of the merit plan. Despite its growth, merit selection remains a controversial judicial issue in certain States. Proponents of merit selection argue that because merit plans maximize the role of legal professionals who are presumably well-equipped to evaluate the qualifications of potential judges, they are preferable to other, more political judicial selection methods. Opponents claim that merit plans engender a somewhat subterranean process of bar and bench politics that is far removed from popular control. To further understanding of judicial nominating commissions, the American Judicature Society sent questionnaires to 1,425 persons serving as commissioners. Background characteristics (age, race, gender, religion, education, and occupation) were assessed, along with political activity and commission performance. It was found that commissioners are often relatively inexperienced persons and that the number of commissioners who have held party or public office is quite high. The most dramatic change in the composition of judicial nominating commissions since 1973 is the increase in the percentage of women serving as commissioners. Nonetheless, commissioners on the whole are overwhelmingly white, over 40 years of age, and from both an educational and occupational elite. 42 footnotes, 3 tables.