In Defense of Judicial Elections: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

In Defense of Judicial Elections

1st Edition

By Chris W. Bonneau, Melinda Gann Hall


184 pages

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One of the most contentious issues in politics today is the propriety of electing judges. Ought judges be independent of democratic processes in obtaining and retaining their seats, or should they be subject to the approval of the electorate and the processes that accompany popular control? While this debate is interesting and often quite heated, it usually occurs without reference to empirical facts--or at least accurate ones. Also, empirical scholars to date have refused to take a position on the normative issues surrounding the practice.

Bonneau and Hall offer a fresh new approach. Using almost two decades of data on state supreme court elections, Bonneau and Hall argue that opponents of judicial elections have made—and continue to make—erroneous empirical claims. They show that judicial elections are efficacious mechanisms that enhance the quality of democracy and create an inextricable link between citizens and the judiciary. In so doing, they pioneer the use of empirical data to shed light on these normative questions and offer a coherent defense of judicial elections. This provocative book is essential reading for anyone interested in the politics of judicial selection, law and politics, or the electoral process.

Part of the Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation series edited by Matthew J. Streb.


"In the Acknowledgment section of this book, Professors Bonneau and Hall make the bold, perhaps even audacious, claim that their "book represents the most comprehensive, systematic examination of state supreme court elections that we (or others) have ever undertaken." After reading the book and digesting their voluminous analyses, I’m convinced! In adducing rigorous, empirical evidence regarding how state judicial elections actually operate, thereby busting a number of widely held myths about state judicial elections, Bonneau and Hall have entirely reconstruct our understanding of the state courts of last resort. An empirical tour-de-force that addresses extremely important normative issues of accountability and independence. No student of state or judicial politics can afford to ignore this important book."

James L. Gibson, Sidney W. Souers Professor of Government, Washington University in St. Louis

"This is an important book. Bonneau and Hall use a rich body of empirical data to illuminate the functioning of judicial elections and to probe the desirability of electing judges. The questions they raise about widely accepted arguments against judicial elections and the evidence they muster in support of their position are major contributions to the debate over how to select judges."

Lawrence Baum, Ohio State University

"Going against the tide, Bonneau and Hall, two leading scholars of state judicial elections, provide a strong argument for retaining this controversial method of judicial selection. The authors effectively debunk reformers’ pretensions and stick empirical fingers in the reformers’ eyes."

Stephen L. Wasby, Professor Emeritus, University at Albany, SUNY

"IN DEFENSE is another title in the Routledge series 'Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation.' It is a valuable and excellent addition to the literature of state judicial elections; if only for one reason, it empirically demonstrates and strongly argues that opponents of judicial elections are erroneous in their underlying assumptions…IN DEFENSE is a well-written book and very accessible to both scholars and non-scholars…I found it difficult to put down once I began reading it. The authors, while forceful in their condemnations of assumptions behind judicial election opponents' arguments, nevertheless acknowledge that elections are not the perfect panacea to some of the problems identified by judicial reform advocates. They conclude that these problems are not limited to judicial elections alone and that citizens are rightly concerned about all elections for political offices in the United States. Bonneau and Hall posit that there are other alternative solutions better suited for resolving these issues. I agree and strongly recommend the book to every reader concerned about either judicial independence or judicial accountability."

--Salmon A. Shomade, University of New Orleans

"Summing Up: Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates and above." - J. Michael Bitzer, CHOICE (March 2010)

Table of Contents

1. The History of Electing Judges 2. The Question of Voter Interest 3. Campaign Spending 4. Electoral Competition 5. Incumbency 6. The Impact of Institutional Reforms to Judicial Elections 7. Conclusion

About the Authors

Chris W. Bonneau is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Pittsburgh.

Melinda Gann Hall is Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Michigan State University.

About the Series

Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation

The Routledge series Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation presents cutting edge scholarship and innovative thinking on a broad range of issues relating to democratic practice and theory. An electoral democracy, to be effective, must show a strong relationship between representation and a fair open election process. Designed to foster debate and challenge assumptions about how elections and democratic representation should work, titles in the series present a strong but fair argument on topics related to elections and the institutions shaping them, voting behavior, party and media involvement, representation, and democratic theory.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Government / Judicial Branch