Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Courts in Transition: Essays on the Politics of Judge Selection in the States
by Wininger, Phillip J., Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2019, 145; 22615370
Abstract (Summary)

The American states have instituted a variety of methods for selecting judges – methods that have shifted and evolved over time. When advocating for alterations to judge selection methods, political actors often cite principles of accountability versus independence. In this dissertation, I argue that these competing values are an important framework within which political actors push for institutional change to state judiciaries in opposite directions along an independence-accountability spectrum. While actors in some states have sought to move their courts toward more accountability by altering methods of judge selection, actors in other states have sought more judicial independence. This phenomenon yields a puzzle that motivates this research: Why are political actors in the American states, part of the same political system, seeking to move courts in opposite directions?

The dissertation provides answers through three essays. The first essay conceptualizes judicial independence and accountability with respect to judge selection. Guided by these concepts and a data set on judge selection legislation that I gathered and coded, the essay explores how a range of institutional and ideological factors may lead state legislators to introduce bills that move courts toward independence or accountability. The research indicates that the institutional position of courts along an independence-accountability spectrum, independent of ideological factors, influences the volume of court-altering legislation that seek to shift courts in countervailing directions. The second essay builds upon this analysis by more deeply examining the composition and legislative approval of bills. It examines the extent to which ideological and institutional factors may lead to, first, the introduction of large systemic changes to judge selection as opposed to small institutional adjustments and, second, legislative approval of bills.

The final essay looks beyond legislators to the public. Utilizing a survey experiment that I constructed and fielded, the essay explores the extent to which elite framing of judge selection methods with respect to accountability and independence can shift public support for different electoral and appointment schemes. The research finds that the public, which exhibits baseline support for both elections and appointments, may shift their views dependent upon how political actors frame the courts. The public, however, may not react in ways intended by policy advocates.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wahlbeck, Paul J.
Commitee: Binder, Sarah, Bartels, Brandon
School: The George Washington University
Department: Political Science
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 81/2(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Political science
Keywords: Courts, Judges, Judicial politics, Judicial selection, Legislatures
Publication Number: 22615370
ISBN: 9781085692922
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