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The Politics of Court Appointments: Does it Matter Who is Governor for the Vermont Supreme Court?

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10/22/2008

Unlike the United States Supreme Court, which is the subject of intense scrutiny, we see relatively little analysis of the Vermont Supreme Court. Yet, the state's highest court decides cases involving the rights of criminal defendants, property rights, environmental issues, and a host of other questions that should be of concern to Vermonters. Thus, it is important to examine trends on the court, and ask whether the appointment process has resulted in the same kind of ideological divisions we have seen on the United States Supreme Court. Currently on the Vermont Supreme Court, there are three justices who have been appointed by Democratic governors, and two appointed by the Douglas administration. Is the court's political composition reflected in its decision making?

In her research, Cheryl Hanna has been tracking the Vermont Supreme Court's decisions since the appointees of Governor Douglas joined the bench to see what ideological differences, if any, currently exist. She identifies some key differences between the Democratic appointees and the Republican appointees, particularly in cases that involve "social values." Professor Hanna suggests where those fault lines currently are and what implications these differences may have for the future of the court.

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