Judicial independence and retention elections

Brandice Canes-Wrone, Tom S. Clark, Jee Kwang Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Citations (Scopus)


Judges face retention elections in over a third of US state courts of last resort and numerous lower courts. According to conventional wisdom, these elections engender judicial independence and decrease democratic accountability. We argue that in the context of modern judicial campaigns, retention elections create pressure for judges to cater to public opinion on "hot-button" issues that are salient to voters. Moreover, this pressure can be as great as that in contestable elections. We test these arguments by comparing decisions across systems with retention, partisan, and nonpartisan contestable elections. Employing models that account for judge- and state-specific effects, we analyze new data regarding abortion cases decided by state supreme courts between 1980 and 2006. The results provide strong evidence for the arguments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-234
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Law, Economics, and Organization
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management
  • Law

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