Distinguishing Judges: An Empirical Ranking of Judicial Quality in the U.S. Court of Appeals

70 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2009 Last revised: 14 Feb 2013

See all articles by Robert Anderson

Robert Anderson

Pepperdine University School of Law

Date Written: 2010


This article presents an empirical quality ranking of 383 federal appellate judges who served on the United States Court of Appeals between 1960 and 2008. Like existing judge evaluation studies, this article uses citations among judicial opinions to assess judicial quality. Unlike existing citation studies, which treat positive and negative citations alike, this article ranks judges according to the mix of positive and negative citations to the opinions, rather than the number of citations to those opinions. By distinguishing between positive and negative citations, this approach avoids ranking judges higher for citations even when the judges are being cited negatively. The additional information provided by this data produces strikingly different results from those found in the existing count-based studies of judicial performance. When the mix of positive and negative citations is taken into account, many of the most highly cited judges from the citation count studies are only average and some of the average judges in the citation count studies emerge as the most positively cited. This new approach is applied to evaluate the recent nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, revealing aspects of judicial quality that are not captured by existing techniques.

Keywords: federal appellate judges, United States Court of Appeals, evaluation, judicial opinions, quality, citation study, ranking, judicial performance, Sonia Sotomayor

JEL Classification: K4, K40, K41, K49

Suggested Citation

Anderson, Robert, Distinguishing Judges: An Empirical Ranking of Judicial Quality in the U.S. Court of Appeals (2010). Missouri Law Review, Vol. 76, No. 315, 2010; Pepperdine University Legal Studies Research Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1433442 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1433442

Robert Anderson (Contact Author)

Pepperdine University School of Law ( email )

24255 Pacific Coast Highway
Malibu, CA 90263
United States

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