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

53 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2008 Last revised: 15 Jul 2010

See all articles by Daniel Martin Katz

Daniel Martin Katz

Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law; Stanford CodeX - The Center for Legal Informatics

Derek K. Stafford

University of Michigan - Department of Political Science

Date Written: March 1, 2008


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.

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

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:

Daniel Martin Katz (Contact Author)

Illinois Tech - Chicago Kent College of Law ( email )

565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States


Stanford CodeX - The Center for Legal Informatics ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States


Derek K. Stafford

University of Michigan - Department of Political Science ( email )

Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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