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The Supreme Court’s Many Median Justices

Ben Lauderdale and Tom Clark wrote a paper in which they modeled Supreme Court judges as having different relative positions on different issues.

Here’s an illustration of what their model does:

Cool. And I looove the graphs. I’m pretty sure that, from the effort that the authors put into creating the many displays in the article, came a much deeper understanding of their model and its political implications.


  1. Christopher Zorn says:

    And my understanding is that it only took them, like, two minutes to do these plots.

  2. Jonathan says:

    This is great work. It would be awesome to see how these estimates change over time for the individual justice, and maybe try and track why the opinions change (if its not in the opinion already). Really fantastic work.

  3. Jed says:

    Really fantastic work. Their ideas about litigators framing cases in order to pick the right middle judge are probably already practiced by the lawyers who present cases to the supreme court, but with the aid of intuition and anecdotal evidence instead of the exact breakdown this paper brings to the table. Love the charts on p. 24-25 showing justice opinion on various positions and opinion shift over time. Would like even more to see them overlaid, although that would be a lot of information to pack onto a tiny chart. There’s a mild typo in the description at the bottom of p. 24:

    Points indicate average rank in each issue area, relative to the justice’s rank in
    Criminal Procedure cases; negative values indicate more liberal rank; conservative values indicate
    more conservative rank.

    Sheesh peer reviewers, get it together :)

  4. dmk38 says:

    Agree great paper. The strategic case-selection point is a bit off, though. US S Ct has discretionary jurisdiction & takes relatively few cases. So it’s not so easy for litigants — even repeat-player institutional actors like insurance industry — to force most advantageous cases on the Ct (big exception is US govt, both because Ct tends to take any case US asks it to decide & because US doesn’t face coordination/collective action probs that other repeat-player institutional litigants face). The strategic selection is actually made by *the individual Justices* in voting to hear cases or not! Presumably they take the dynamics modeled in the paper into account (although why this doesn’t create a huge endogeneity/selection bias problem for this kind of analysis is something scholars who do this sort of work have all sworn a blood oath never to address seriously)