Nora E. Sydow
While the judiciary serves as an independent branch of government, our democratic system requires some degree of citizen oversight and accountability from all branches of government. Judicial Performance Evaluation (JPE) programs are one mechanism by which the judiciary seeks to strike a balance between independence and accountability. These programs are used to inform (a) the voting public in states with retention elections, (b) individual judges for self-improvement, and (c) administrative decisions regarding judicial assignment and retention. Most JPE programs make use of performance evaluation surveys based on the popular ABA model that are most often completed by attorneys and court staff. More recently, concerns that these surveys may be systematically biased against female and minority judges have been raised (see “Bias in JPEs,” below). The National Center for State Courts (NCSC) offers technical assistance to states interested in developing new or refining existing judicial performance evaluation surveys in light of this evidence.
Links to related online resources are listed below. Non-digitized publications may
be borrowed from the NCSC Library; call numbers are provided.
This table includes information on the Judicial Performance Evaluation Commission of the fifty states in 2004.
This IAALS site explains that in 17 states and the District of Columbia, there is an official program for evaluating judicial performance. In 7 states, performance evaluation results are provided to voters for use in retention elections. In 3 states and the District of Columbia, performance evaluation results are provided to those responsible for reappointing judges. In 2 states, summary performance evaluation results are provided to the public to enhance confidence in the courts. In 5 states, performance evaluations are provided only to individual judges for the purpose of self-improvement.
The article discusses the use of judicial performance evaluations as a method to ensure that judges are competent and free from bias.
Judicature (2012). Recent criticisms leveled against JPE programs and supported by preliminary empirical evidence portray JPE surveys based on the popular ABA model as systematically biased against minority and women judges. To provide states with some guidance in this effort, this article reviews several fundamental shortcomings common to state and model JPE surveys in the U.S. and offers some concrete steps for improvement in key areas.