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Hustle and Flow: A Social Network Analysis of the American Federal Judiciary


Daniel Martin Katz


Michigan State University - College of Law

Derek K. Stafford


University of Michigan - Department of Political Science

March 1, 2008

Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 71, No. 3, 2010
U of Michigan Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 08-004
3rd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Papers

Abstract:     
Scholars have long asserted that social structure is an important feature of a variety of societal institutions. As part of a larger effort to develop a fully integrated model of judicial decision making, we argue that social structure-operationalized as the professional and social connections between judicial actors-partially directs outcomes in the hierarchical federal judiciary.

Since different social structures impose dissimilar consequences upon outputs, the precursor to evaluating the doctrinal consequences that a given social structure imposes is a descriptive effort to characterize its properties. Given the difficulty associated with obtaining appropriate data for federal judges, it is necessary to rely upon a proxy measure to paint a picture of the social landscape. In the aggregate, we believe the flow of law clerks reflects a reasonable proxy for social and professional linkages between jurists. Having collected available information for all federal judicial law clerks employed by an Article III judge during the "natural" Rehnquist Court (1995-2004), we use these roughly 19,000 clerk events to craft a series of network based visualizations.

Using network analysis, our visualizations and subsequent analytics provide insight into the path of peer effects in the federal judiciary. For example, we find the distribution of "degrees" is highly skewed implying the social structure is dictated by a small number of socially prominent actors. Using a variety of centrality measures, we identify these socially prominent jurists. Next, we draw from the extant complexity literature and offer a possible generative process responsible for producing such inequality in social authority. While the complete adjudication of a generative process is beyond the scope of this article, our results contribute to a growing literature documenting the highly-skewed distribution of authority across the common law and its constitutive institutions.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 53

Keywords: Network Analysis, Complexity, Judicial Decision Making, Public Law, Law Clerks, Sociology of Law, Power Law, Judicial Peer Effects, Doctrinal Phase Transition, Natural Rehnquist Court, Organizational Studies, Scale Free Network, Computational Legal Studies, Judicial Politics, Law as a Complex System

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Date posted: April 16, 2008 ; Last revised: July 15, 2010

Suggested Citation

Katz, Daniel Martin and Stafford, Derek K., Hustle and Flow: A Social Network Analysis of the American Federal Judiciary (March 1, 2008). Ohio State Law Journal, Vol. 71, No. 3, 2010; U of Michigan Law & Economics, Olin Working Paper No. 08-004; 3rd Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Papers. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1103573

Contact Information

Daniel Martin Katz (Contact Author)
Michigan State University - College of Law ( email )
318 Law College Building
East Lansing, MI 48824-1300
United States
HOME PAGE: http://computationallegalstudies.com/
Derek K. Stafford
University of Michigan - Department of Political Science ( email )
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States
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