Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science

First Advisor

Eric N. Waltenburg

Committee Chair

Eric N. Waltenburg

Committee Member 1

William P. McLauchlan

Committee Member 2

Yvonne M. Pitts

Committee Member 3

Jerry L. Polinard

Committee Member 4

William R. Shaffer


State judiciaries are foundational institutions of governance in the United States. They are coequal, policy-making branches of government whose members, along with the legislative and executive branches, are constitutionally authorized and empowered in all fifty American states. Extant research on judicial selection in the American states provides neither a comprehensive theory of why states choose their particular judicial selection method nor a comprehensive empirical assessment of this important question. This research seeks to fill this lacuna by increasing understanding of American state courts through the formulation of a theory of state judicial selection, a short but comprehensive history of state judicial selection reform, and an event history analysis of the adoption of merit selection by states for choosing judges to their courts of last.

The major finding is that, similar to other institutional arrangements, state judicial selection methods are highly path dependent. Once established, they are on a trajectory which is difficult to alter. An important secondary finding is that lawyers play a significant role in bringing about judicial selection reform when and where the possibility of change arises. They are incentivized actors who historically have taken the lead in judicial selection reform efforts. Geography also seems to be an influential factor in judicial selection reform, suggesting that reform-minded states take cues and learn and from their neighbors.