An Experimental Investigation of How Judicial Elections Affect Public Faith in the Judicial System

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Judicial scholars have often speculated about the impact of elections on the administration of justice in the state courts. Yet relatively little research has concerned itself with public perceptions of state court selection methods. Of particular interest is the concept of legitimacy. Do elections negatively affect public perceptions of judicial legitimacy? Bonneau and Hall (2009) and Gibson (2012) answer this question with an emphatic “No.” Judicial elections, these studies show, are not uniquely troublesome for perceptions of institutional legitimacy. This article aims to extend the findings of Bonneau and Hall and Gibson via a laboratory experiment on the effects of elections on public perceptions of judicial legitimacy. In the end, we find that because elections preempt the use of the other main selection method—appointment—they actually enhance perceptions of judicial legitimacy rather than diminish them.