Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court

Posted: 18 Aug 2009

See all articles by James H. Fowler

James H. Fowler

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Timothy R. Johnson

University of Minnesota

James F. Spriggs II

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science; Washington University in St. Louis - Center for Empirical Research in the Law

Sangick Jeon

Stanford University - Department of Political Science

Paul J. Wahlbeck

George Washington University

Abstract

We construct the complete network of 26,681 majority opinions written by the U.S. Supreme Court and the cases that cite them from 1791 to 2005. We describe a method for using the patterns in citations within and across cases to create importance scores that identify the most legally relevant precedents in the network of Supreme Court law at any given point in time. Our measures are superior to existing network-based alternatives and, for example, offer information regarding case importance not evident in simple citation counts. We also demonstrate the validity of our measures by showing that they are strongly correlated with the future citation behavior of state courts, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. In so doing, we show that network analysis is a viable way of measuring how central a case is to law at the Court and suggest that it can be used to measure other legal concepts.

Suggested Citation

Fowler, James H. and Johnson, Timothy R. and Spriggs, James F. and Jeon, Sangick and Wahlbeck, Paul J., Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court. Political Analysis, Vol. 15, Issue 3, pp. 324-346, 2007, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1448405 or http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/pan/mpm011

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

affiliation not provided to SSRN

No Address Available

Timothy R. Johnson

University of Minnesota ( email )

Department of Political Science
1414 Social Sciences, 267 19th Ave S.
Minneapolis, MN 55455-0410
United States

James F. Spriggs

Washington University in St. Louis - Department of Political Science ( email )

One Brookings Drive
One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Washington University in St. Louis - Center for Empirical Research in the Law ( email )

One Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Sangick Jeon

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

616 Serra Street
Encina Hall West, Suite 100
Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Paul J. Wahlbeck

George Washington University ( email )

Department of Political Science
2115 G Street, N.W. Ste 440
Washington, DC 20052
United States
202-994-4872 (Phone)
202-994-7743 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://home.gwu.edu/~wahlbeck

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