Herbert M. Kritzer

Sep 2, 2021

Judicial Selection in the States

Politics and the Struggle for Reform

Cambridge University Press 2020

Herbert “Bert” Kritzer, the Marvin J. Sonosky Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota Law School, has a new book that explores the process for reform of judicial selection across the fifty states. This is a fascinating examination of the different approaches that state legislatures, governors, partisans, and citizens have pursued in reforming the process, within each state, of judicial selection at all levels. With a brief historical overview of how this process was initially pursued in the early days of the republic, Kritzer moves to the central time period of the book, which is examining the state systems that were in place in the mid-20th century and the moves across the country to modernize court systems and how those moves unfolded. The main period that Kritzer focuses on is between 1980 and 2020, and he carefully reviews the reform efforts that succeeded as well as those that failed

Judicial Selection in the States: Politics and the Struggle for Reform (Cambridge UP, 2020) examines the legal and democratic subcultures as a way to frame and understand the reasons behind the move towards reforms. But the heart of the book is diving into various states to see what they tried to change, who tried to change it, and if they were at all successful in these reform efforts. One of the more popular plans for state-level judicial selection is the “Missouri Plan”, which was designed to improve the quality of judges by establishing a kind of review board/nominating commission that made recommendations to the governor of the state. Many states, between 1960 and 1980, moved towards adopting the Missouri plan as the method for judicial selection. But following this, states continued to reform with an eye towards more legal professionalism as the guiding tenet behind judicial selection. According to Kritzer’s research, this was very much the case between 1980 and 1999, and this was in concert with the overhauling of state constitutions as well. Around 2000 there is a bit of a shift, as partisan politics now starts to be more of the driver behind the moves to reform or change the selection of state judges. Judicial Selection in the States is an interesting exploration of the various forms of judicial selection, the moves towards reform over the decades, the shifting role of partisanship as well as the impetus towards more professional and merit-based outcomes.

Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012), as well as co-editor of Mad Men and Politics: Nostalgia and the Remaking of Modern America (Bloomsbury Academic, 2015). Email her comments at lgoren@carrollu.edu or tweet to @gorenlj.

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Lilly J. Goren is professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI.

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