Judicial Appointments, Electoral Accountability, and Polarization

TitleJudicial Appointments, Electoral Accountability, and Polarization
Publication TypeUnpublished
AuthorsJudd G, Bils P, Smith B

In the US, judicial review constrains executive power. However, presidents appoint members of the court, potentially weakening this constraint. Elections may discipline who presidents appoint, but those appointments may also affect elections by shaping voter expectations about the court’s constraint on future officeholders and thereby altering the voting calculus. We develop a model of electoral accountability to study these strategic links between voters, politicians, and judges. An executive appoints a judge who constrains present and future policy. Our analysis delivers four substantive insights. First, electoral accountability may encourage moderate appointments, thus alleviating the counter-majoritarian difficulty. Second, policy reforms that increase turnover on the court may backfire and reduce voter welfare if they go too far. Third, polarization has important effects, but these effects are conditioned on the source of polarization. Finally, electoral forces may help to explain some empirical patterns not well explained by existing theory