American Judges Association


Date of this Version

October 2002


Published in Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 39:3 (2002), pp. 20-28. Copyright © 2002 National Center for State Courts. Used by permission. Online at


In the November 2000 election, the citizens of Florida had the opportunity to switch from the nonpartisan elective system to a merit selection and retention system for selecting trial judges in their respective circuits and counties. Although the majority of Florida voters favored electing their trial judges, this issue has spurred intense debate in the legal community concerning which is the better method for judicial selection. The crux of the debate centers on whether the judiciary should be independent or accountable to the public. On one end of the spectrum, judges are seen as heads of a branch of government that should be accountable to the citizens of their jurisdiction. On the opposite end, judges are viewed as different in that ethics, and not politics, dictate their governmental role. It is this ideological disparity that fostered the creation of the merit selection and retention system.

Prior to the November election, the merit system was being promoted as a great compromise of both ideologies. Merit selection is a form of direct appointment and is intended to preserve judicial independence. Merit retention is a form of popular election and is intended to encourage accountability. Although the merit system comprises two distinct methods of judicial selection to serve both interests, it is ineffective for judicial selection. Specifically, merit selection increases the politics that encompass direct appointment, and merit retention revisits the campaign issues that plague popular elections. However, some significant changes in the merit system would make it more effective for judicial selection.

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