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The Role of Competence in Promotions from the Lower Federal Courts

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The judicial behavior literature typically assumes that politicians nominate judges on the basis of their ideology. That assumption helps explain studies that show a statistical correlation between the party of the nominating president and the ideological direction of the votes of judges. However, the assumption is too simple. Casual empiricism suggests that politicians, interest groups, and the public care not only about the ideology of judges. They may also care about their competence and political loyalty and about ensuring that the judicial system is diverse. We focus on the role of competence in judicial promotions. We find, however, that presidents do not take much account of competence when promoting judges—despite the fact that there is some, albeit mixed, evidence that the most competent appellate judges were highly competent district judges.

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