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Judicial Selection in the United States - A Special Report

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 64 Issue: 4 Dated: (October 1980) Pages: 176-193
L C Berkson
Date Published
18 pages

A brief review of the historical evolution of the judicial selection process in the United States and a survey of current selection processes in all jurisdictions are presented.


Historically there has been considerable controversy about how American judges should be chosen. Methods have included selection by the king, popular election, and, most recently, merit plans for executive appointment. State merit plans vary, but share common features such as a permanent, nonpartisan commission which actively recruits and screens prospective candidates. Today the combination of schemes used to select judges is almost endless. Almost no two States are alike, and few employ the same method for choosing judges at all levels of their judiciaries. In general, however, approximately half of the States appoint judges and half elect them. Thirty-one States use commission plans to aid the governor in selecting judges. In four States the governor appoints judges without using a nominating commission, subject to senatorial confirmation. In Hawaii and Illinois, judges themselves appoint some of their colleagues. Partisan elections are held to select most or all judges in 13 States and for some judges in an additional 8 States. Nonpartisan elections are held to select most or all judges in 17 States and for some judges in an additional 3 States. One-half of the States hold elections for State supreme court judges. Seventeen States out of the 32 which have intermediate appellate courts elect judges to these courts. Selection of judges for trial courts and courts of limited jurisdiction is effected through a variety of methods. Extensive charts present state-by-state information. Footnotes are included.