Choose Your Judges is a non-partisan organization dedicated to increasing voter awareness in judicial elections. We welcome any comments or feedback about or site or our methodology. If you want to contact us please click here.
Visitors to our site can take a quiz which asks them about what kind of judge they would prefer—for example, whether or not they would prefer a judge who has a lot of prior experience practicing law, or whether or not would they prefer a judge who tends to rule for the prosecution in criminal cases. The website then compares the voter’s stated preference to each candidate’s qualifications and voting record, and gives a recommendation to the voter based on the voter’s expressed preferences. For more information, see How Choose Your Judges makes its recommendations.
As of now, we only cover supreme court judges; that is, we do not provide recommendations for intermediate appellate judges or trial court judges.
Why do you assume that judges decide cases based on their political or ideological preferences? Don’t judges make decisions based on the applicable law in each case?
In the majority of cases, judges are bound by the law that applies in the case, and their job is simply to apply the law fairly to the facts. However, there are many cases in which the law is ambiguous, or no precedent clearly applies to the specific fact pattern. In these cases judges must exercise some discretion in deciding the case—how to interpret the ambiguous language of a statute, for example, or whether to choose one precedent or another. Over the course of many cases, the judge’s decisions sometimes form a clear pattern, which can be recorded and measured.
Numerous political science articles and legal studies have shown that judges have measurable political leanings, though these leanings frequently defy simplistic party affiliations like “Democratic” or “Republican.”
We analyze judicial decisions and solicit voter’s opinions on ten different legal topics:
- Criminal procedure (whether the procedural rights of a criminal defendant were violated)
- Substantive criminal law (whether the defendant’s actions were covered by the criminal statute in question or whether an imposed sentence was too severe)
- Personal injury/tort case against a corporation or public entity (not including medical malpractice cases)
- Medical malpractice (patient suing a doctor or hospital)
- Employment/housing discrimination (employer or landlord being sued for discrimination)
- Tax (government body or taxing agency is suing or being sued over amount of taxes or assessment or other tax issue)
- Judicial review (did the candidate strike down a state law or agency regulation—or did he or she refuse to do so when other members of the court did)
- Stare decisis (did the candidate overturn or ignore a prior precedent issued by his or her court— or did he or she refuse to do so when other members of the court did)
We can only rate a judge on a particular topic if there are enough decisions in that area to determine voting patterns. We used almost twice as many categories when examining each of the cases, but many of them had so few decisions that it was impossible to draw any conclusions about the candidate’s political or ideological preferences.
We realize that the list of legal topics that we cover does not include some popular political/legal issues such as gay marriage, abortion, or gun rights. Unfortunately, state court judges very rarely deal with these issues, and so there is no way to predict—using our methodology—how they will vote on close cases involving these issues. Of course, the fact that state court judges very rarely deal with these issues also means that they may not be the most important factors to consider when voting for a judge.
Our researches have examined hundreds of cases for each candidate that we cover; these cases were categorized according to subject matter, and patterns in each candidate’s voting record were measured.