How Judges Use Precedent
University of Toronto - Faculty of Law
December 1, 2011
Legal scholars have long argued that judges are ideologically motivated when deciding cases, constrained only by judicial review or legislative oversight. Recent empirical research, consistent with this claim, shows that federal judges appointed by Democratic presidents decide cases differently than those appointed by Republican presidents. Largely overlooked, however, is how judicial ideology influences how judges use legal precedent when writing opinions. This article examines this question, constructing a unique dataset of federal appellate opinions from 1971-2007 of every citation to United States Supreme Court decisions from 1953-2007. The identification strategy exploits the random assignment of cases to three-judge panels. The results, using multiple measures of Supreme Court precedent, provide strong evidence that judicial ideology influences how judges cite precedent. Panels monotonically cite more conservative precedent as the number of Republican-appointed judges on the panel increase. This ideological difference, however, is most pronounced during the period 1988-2000.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 35working papers series
Date posted: January 17, 2012
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