Judicial Elections and Opinion Quality in State Supreme Courts

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Damon Cann and Greg Goelzhauser have recently posted “Judicial Elections and Opinion Quality in State Supreme Courts” on SSRN. The graph above provides some of the basics on their measures of opinion clarity. Here’s the abstract:

Do elected judges write lower-quality opinions? We propose a new measure of opinion quality based on clarity. Using a sample of decisions from supreme courts in all 50 states, we find no perceptive difference in opinion quality across retention systems. Moreover, there is no evidence that elected judges strategically manipulate opinion content in salient cases despite potentially strong institutional incentives to do so. The results contradict existing evidence that elected judges write lower-quality opinions using external case citations as a measure of quality. We contend that clarity is a more conceptually satisfying way to measure opinion quality. The results have implications for our understanding of judicial behavior and the ongoing normative debate over judicial elections.

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