Election vs. Appointment
Elect or Appoint? A Central Debate
One of the hottest debates in judicial politics today is whether judges should be chosen through competitive election or appointments. Each side has pros and cons.
Competitive Elections are, adherents say, the most democratic way to make judges accountable to the public. But competitive elections have many problems, and critics, who cite their heavy reliance on special interest money. 22 states use competitive elections to fill state supreme court seats, at least some of the time. Learn more about Competitive Elections.
Appointment/Retention Systems, also known as “merit selection,” rely on bipartisan nominating commissions to put slates of candidates to the governor, who picks from that list. Voters then periodically vote on whether to retain these judges. While this greatly reduces special interest money, critics call these systems undemocratic. 24 states use bipartisan commissions to help choose supreme court justices. Learn more about Appointment Systems.
Four states have adopted public financing, as a middle ground, to combat special-interest money while still conducting state supreme court elections. But public financing has come under attack and was gutted or inadequately funded in two of these states in 2011. Learn more about public financing.
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