Judicial selection and death penalty Decisions

TitleJudicial selection and death penalty Decisions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2014
AuthorsCanes-Wrone B, Clark TS, Kelly JP
JournalAmerican Political Science Review
ISBN Numberdoi:10.1017/S0003055413000622
AbstractMost U.S. state supreme court justices face elections or reappointment by elected officials, and research suggests that judicial campaigns have come to resemble those for other offices. We develop predictions on how selection systems should affect judicial decisions and test these predictions on an extensive dataset of death penalty decisions by state courts of last resort. Specifically, the data include over 12,000 decisions on over 2000 capital punishment cases decided between 1980 and 2006 in systems with partisan, nonpartisan, or retention elections or with reappointment. As predicted, the findings suggest that judges face the greatest pressure to uphold capital sentences in systems with nonpartisan ballots. Also as predicted, judges respond similarly to public opinion in systems with partisan elections or reappointment. Finally, the results indicate that the plebiscitary influences on judicial behavior emerge only after interest groups began achieving success at targeting justices for their decisions.