Locating Supreme Court Opinions in Doctrine Space

41 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2009 Last revised: 24 Sep 2009

See all articles by Tom S. Clark

Tom S. Clark

Emory University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: August 4, 2009


This paper develops a scaling model to estimate opinion locations and justice ideal points along a common, continuous dimension using the citations between opinions as data. We assume that each opinion has a fixed location in this doctrine space and that the probability of a citation that decreases in distance between two opinions. This proximity citation model is applied to original datasets of citations in search and seizure and freedom of religion opinions written between 1953 and 2006. The resulting estimates of opinion location are used to evaluate theories of Supreme Court bargaining and opinion writing. We find empirical support for theoretical models that predict the majority opinion will fall at the ideal point of the median member of the majority coalition. Given the centrality of theories of judicial policymaking to various substantive problems in political science, the method of scaling opinions developed in this paper can facilitate future research.

Suggested Citation

Clark, Tom S., Locating Supreme Court Opinions in Doctrine Space (August 4, 2009). CELS 2009 4th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1444031 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1444031

Tom S. Clark (Contact Author)

Emory University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Atlanta, GA 30322
United States
404-727-6615 (Phone)

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