American Judges Association


Date of this Version



Court Review, Volume 49, Issue 3 (2013)


Copyright American Judges Association. Used by permission.


Official judicial-performance evaluation (JPE) programs in the United States emerged to achieve important judicial-branch objectives. JPE programs respond to the need for courts to demonstrate accountability, provide information for voters in low-information judicial-retention elections, improve the quality of the bench by providing feedback for individual judges to use for self-evaluation purposes, and assist judicial administrators in making decisions on retention and assignments in some states with appointed judiciaries. A number of professional organizations, such as the American Bar Association, American Judicature Society, and the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, are strong advocates for the value of JPE programs.1

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia currently operate official JPE programs, mostly conducted by the judicial branch itself, but some conducted by executive-branch agencies in a few states.2 Whether official or unofficial, nearly all JPE programs rely upon surveys distributed to attorneys and court staff—and in some instances to jurors, litigants, and others—as the exclusive or a primary method for measuring judicial performance.3 Most state JPE programs are based on the American Bar Association’s Black Letter Guidelines for the Evaluation of Judicial Performance,4 and several states use some variation of the model surveys put forth by the ABA Lawyers’ Conference.5