Merit Selection of Judges Studied

AJS Releases Results of Largest-Ever Survey of Judicial Nominating Commissioners

As states work to ensure highly qualified, knowledgeable, accessible, adaptable, and accountable judiciaries, the methods used to select judges frequently engender fervent debate, especially during election cycles.

altIn recent years, many states that elect judges have witnessed increasing campaign spending and bitter rhetoric, leading some to consider the adoption of merit selection, a system where judges are appointed to the bench from a list of candidates nominated by an impartial, nonpartisan commission. Meanwhile, in a number of states, existing merit selection systems have come under attack.

The study, released on March 8, 2012, by the American Judicature Society (AJS) examines current merit selection systems. The results indicate that judicial nominating commissions are highly functional decision-making bodies operating in ways that are consistent with the goals that guided their creation.

"Inside Merit Selection: The Results of a National Survey of Nominating Commissioners" is the first survey since 1994 to assess judicial nominating commissions, including information about commission rules, procedures, practices, and members’ working relationships. With 487 respondents from 30 states and the District of Columbia, this survey is the largest of its kind.

"The survey results indicate judicial nominating commissions are largely operating as they were intended to operate," says Rachel Paine Caufield, Ph.D, of AJS and Drake University.

The survey finds that Judicial Nominating Commissioners believe the merit selection process is fair, that it effectively promotes highly-qualified individuals for service on the bench and appropriately restrains the power of the governor while minimizing the role of politics in the judiciary. The research also indicates that Commissions are becoming more systematic in their work, with more codified rules governing their decision-making
processes, more transparency, more diversity, and more self-conscious and intentional efforts to remove political influences from the deliberations.

"The merit selection system was designed to take politics out of the process to find qualified judges, and it’s a system AJS has advocated for since its inception," says Seth Andersen, AJS executive director. "The results contradict common messages politicians send when they suggest legislation to change the merit selection process."

"Inside Merit Selection: The Results of a National Survey of Judicial Nominating Commissioners" was conducted during the summer of 2011 and was funded by a grant from the Foundation to Promote Open Society. The full report is available here.

Founded in 1913, the American Judicature Society is an independent, non-partisan, membership organization working nationally to protect the integrity of the American justice system. AJS’s diverse and broadly based membership – including judges, lawyers and members of the public – promotes fair and impartial courts through research, publications, education and advocacy for judicial reform. The work of AJS focuses primarily on judicial ethics, judicial selection, access to justice, criminal justice reform, and the jury system.  For more information on AJS, visit or contact Dr.
Rachel Paine Caufield, 800-626-4089,


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