University of Denver

Judicial Selection in the United States

Judges in the United States are selected through a variety of methods, from popular elections to appointment by chief executives, legislatures, or other judges. Some of these methods are more effective than others in assuring public confidence in the integrity and quality of our courts.

Executive Director
Executive Assistant to Rebecca Love Kourlis

Objective:

  • To identify and promote models for choosing state and federal judges that promote and preserve fair, high quality, and trusted courts.

Through empirical analysis and recommendations, thought leadership, and substantive support, IAALS works to identify and promote models for choosing state and federal judges that emphasize qualifications and experience, limit political considerations and special interest influence, and provide transparency.

IAALS formerly housed this work under its Quality Judges Initiative until 2018.

Changes to existing processes for choosing, retaining, and evaluating judges are on the legislative agenda in states around the country. Lawmakers and fair courts advocates in a handful of states are working to replace politicized judicial selection systems with processes that better ensure judicial impartiality and accountability and public confidence in the courts. At the same time, in other states, lawmakers and special interests want to alter or abolish processes that achieve these goals.

With legal and empirical analysis and research-based recommendations, IAALS supports state efforts to promote and preserve fair, high quality, and trusted courts.

Publications 
This publication answers many common questions about the court systems and judges in the United States, such as why we have both state and federal courts and how the differ, ​what types of state...
This unique resource that shines a light on each state and its specific methods for selecting and retaining judges. Only available from IAALS, these easy-to-read charts break down how judges reach...
IAALS has a deep and abiding interest in protecting the quality and integrity of the judiciary. With the assistance of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor (Ret.), and based upon IAALS’ independent research...
This publication couples the desired attributes for court systems and individual judges identified by participants in the IAALS Roundtable on Judicial Selection with principles (or “cornerstones”)...
In March 2013, IAALS sponsored “An Uncommon Dialogue” about judicial selection. IAALS convened a diverse group of thirty legal experts for two days to share perspectives on essential attributes for...

According to Article II of the United States Constitution, the President “shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint” most federal judges. In processes for selecting some of these federal judges, an additional component may be in place—one that resembles the judicial nominating commissions used in 33 states and the District of Columbia to choose state judges.

IAALS has conducted research on two such components:

  1. The federal judicial screening committees used by some U.S. Senators to vet potential judicial nominees and recommend individuals that the Senators might then submit to the White House; and
  2. The merit selection panels used by U.S. Court of Appeals judges in each circuit to screen applicants for bankruptcy judgeships and make recommendations regarding potential nominees.

Click here for information about Federal Judicial Screening Committees in place as of August 2017.

Publications 
This report describes the committees in place and their significant variations in membership, appointment process, and, to the degree possible, operations. It suggests why senators and their staffs...
Despite the number of cases processed in U.S. bankruptcy courts and their significance in the financial lives of individuals and businesses alike, very little is known about how the judges who...