Judged by the Company You Keep: An Empirical Study of the Ideologies of Judges on the United States Courts of Appeals

76 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2010 Last revised: 13 Oct 2010

Date Written: June 1, 2010


Although there has been an explosion of empirical legal scholarship about the federal judiciary, with a particular focus on judicial ideology, the question remains: how do we know what the ideology of a judge actually is? For federal courts below the United States Supreme Court, legal academics and political scientists have offered only crude proxies to identify the ideologies of judges. This article attempts to cure this deficiency in empirical research about the federal courts by introducing a new technique for measuring the ideology of judges based upon judicial behavior in the United States Courts of Appeals.

This study measures ideology, not by subjectively coding the ideological direction of case outcomes, but by determining the degree to which federal appellate judges agree and disagree with their liberal and conservative colleagues at both the appellate and district court levels. Further, as part of this unique multi-court-level measure, important inter-court factors such as standard of review are incorporated into the metric. The measure proposed and applied herein (the “Ideology Score”) is based upon opinions derived from or leading to over 30,000 judicial votes issued in 2008 by eleven Courts of Appeals. Utilizing the Ideology Scores, this article includes a scale of the ideology of 143 federal appellate level judges.

Further, through regression analysis, several important findings related to the Ideology Scores emerge. First, the Ideology Scores in this article offer substantial improvements in predicting case outcomes over the leading measures of ideology. Second, there were very different levels and heterogeneity of ideology among the judges on the studied circuits. Third, the data did not support the conventional wisdom that Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush appointed uniquely ideological judges. Fourth, in general judges appointed by Republican Presidents were more ideological than those appointed by Democratic Presidents. Fifth, attendance at a higher ranked law school was strongly correlated with liberalism on the bench for appointments of both Republican and Democratic Presidents. Sixth, prior work experience in the government (outside of the judiciary) was associated with liberal judicial voting.

Keywords: Ideology, Courts of Appeals, judges, law and courts, federal courts, empirical legal studies

Suggested Citation

Yung, Corey Rayburn, Judged by the Company You Keep: An Empirical Study of the Ideologies of Judges on the United States Courts of Appeals (June 1, 2010). Boston College Law Review, Vol. 51, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1618665

Corey Rayburn Yung (Contact Author)

University of Kansas School of Law ( email )

Green Hall
1535 W. 15th Street
Lawrence, KS 66045-7577
United States

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