by Matthew J. Streb (ed). New York: New York University Press, 2007. 272pp. Cloth. $45.00. ISBN: 9780814740347.
Reviewed by Tara W. Stricko-Neubauer, Department of Political Science, Kennesaw State University. Email: tstricko [at] kennesaw.edu.
RUNNING FOR JUDGE: THE RISING POLITICAL, FINANCIAL, AND LEGAL STAKES OF JUDICIAL ELECTIONS, edited by Matthew Streb, contains essays from a large number of leading scholars in the field of judicial politics and provides detailed information on the current state of judicial elections for state courts. The studies are timely with nearly all including data from within the last ten years. The authors examine a variety of topics relating to state court elections, including the First Amendment and judicial speech, contemporary developments in judicial elections, campaign spending, interest group participation, partisan involvement, news coverage, voter response, competition and accountability, the death penalty connection, and recent reform efforts. Nearly all chapters make use of descriptive statistics. This approach makes the book accessible to a broad audience with a wide variety of methodological backgrounds, yet its content makes it a very useful read for those who specifically study state courts.
The volume is noteworthy for its philosophical orientation. While much of the political debate surrounding judicial elections centers on whether judicial elections are a positive or negative development, the goal of the book is explicitly non-normative. As noted by both Matthew Streb and Melinda Gann Hall, the book examines data often cited by both sides of the debate but does not go round and round pondering opposing interpretations of the same evidence. Each chapter takes a different area and considers recent developments and possible implications but does not question the basic wisdom of judicial elections. The authors’ choice is imminently understandable given the limits of a single tome, however readers with strong opinions on the wisdom of judicial elections will find themselves wanting more debate on the merits of electing judges.
The first chapter introduces the central theme that judicial elections are increasingly starting to resemble elections for other explicitly political offices. Of particular importance is the case of the REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA v. WHITE (2002) in which the United States Supreme Court struck down a state provision prohibiting judges from publicly announcing their views on disputed issues. The central issue in WHITE was how to weigh the political speech rights of judicial candidates with the need for judges to appear impartial. The decision and subsequent cases significantly changed the landscape of judicial elections by negating some speech codes which had previously restricted judges from announcing political positions to the electorate, a freedom enjoyed by other [*589] elected officials. The WHITE case reflected the changing nature of judicial elections and represented a turning point in how many states conduct judicial elections.
The next two chapters go in-depth into the WHITE ruling and its impact on judicial speech restrictions across various states. Through careful consideration of the WHITE ruling and extensive evaluation of its later impact, both Richard Hasen and Rachel Caufield agree that recent developments are changing the conduct of judicial elections. The former explores rules changes, while the latter examines the changing tone of judicial elections. Chris Bonneau’s chapter explores the relationship between campaign spending in competitive elections and institutional and political factors while Deborah Goldberg’s chapter focuses on the increasing involvement of interest groups. Both predict continued increases in the cost of judicial campaigns, much like the patterns we have seen for other elective offices.
The argument that judicial elections are starting to resemble other elections can also be seen in the role of other actors in the election process. In Chapter 6, Matthew Streb documents the level of involvement county party organizations play in judicial elections. Brian Schaffner and Jennifer Segal Diascro find mixed evidence of the ability or willingness of the media to better educate voters on the issues and candidates for the bench, although Lawrence Baum and David Klein present some evidence of a voter response (primarily through decreased voter rolloff) to modern judicial campaign developments. In Chapter 9, Melinda Gann Hall explores the challenging area of electoral competition and judicial accountability. Based on a preponderance of the evidence, she argues that judicial elections do indicate the presence of an accountability function, albeit a limited one. Paul Brace and Brent Boyea further explore the connection between public political preferences and judicial decisions in death penalty rulings. Not surprisingly they find evidence of a linkage, which they note raises major normative questions about judicial impartiality. Matthew Streb and Brian Frederick’s Chapter 11 rounds out the book with a summary of recent reform efforts taking place in various states and offers observations about the future of judicial elections research. Unsurprisingly, from the philosophical perspective that judicial elections are negative, most of the reform discussion mentioned by Streb and Frederick centers around public financing for campaigns and nonpartisan elections. This final chapter should appeal most to readers looking for normative insights.
One of the challenges confronting an editor is the difficulty in tying all the results of multiple studies conducted by different authors into one coherent package. While it is true that each chapter in RUNNING FOR JUDGE contains an independent study that is a solitary snapshot in research time, the book does a wonderful job of bringing the different research projects together. All the chapters provide detailed and timely information in an effort to explain recent developments in judicial [*590] elections, specifically in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling and subsequent state court interpretations of the WHITE decision. As more time passes, we will be able to assess with greater accuracy the impact of the WHITE case, but already it seems to be a major turning point in the development of judicial elections.
In sum, this is a comprehensive, well-written book, ideal for readers who already have a high level of knowledge of state courts. It is a worthwhile read for judicial scholars wanting a broad summary of current information on state court elections. The descriptive statistics make the book accessible to those of varying methodological backgrounds but the authors’ conscious choice to take a non-normative approach may disappoint readers expecting a more thorough critique of the wisdom and implications of recent changes in judicial selection processes.
REPUBLICAN PARTY OF MINNESOTA v. WHITE, 536 U.S. 765 (2002)
© Copyright 2007 by the author, Tara W. Stricko-Neubauer.