Methodological Advances and Empirical Legal Scholarship: A Noted on the Cox and Miles' Voting Rights Act Study

Columbia Law Review Sidebar, Vol. 109, No. 42, 2009

Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 10-26

14 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2010  

Nancy C. Staudt

Washington University Law School

Tyler VanderWeele

Harvard University

Date Written: May 29, 2009

Abstract

In this Response, we use Professors Cox and Miles’ recent study of judicial decision-making to explore what is at stake when legal scholars present empirical findings without fully investigating the structural relationships of their data or without explicitly stating the assumptions being made to draw causal inferences. We then introduce a new methodology that is intuitive, easy to use, and, most importantly, allows scholars systematically to assess problems of bias and confounding. This methodology - known as causal directed acyclic graphs - will help empirical researchers to identify true cause and effect relationships when they exist and, at the same time, posit statistical models with appropriate controls, in order to better justify causal claims. While this methodology has become popular in a number of disciplines - including statistics, biostatistics, epidemiology, and computer science - and is widely believed to be a valuable tool for empirical research, it has yet to appear in the empirical law literature. Accordingly, our goal is to offer a brief introduction of the method and to initiate discussion as to its worth in empirical legal studies.

Keywords: Courts, Methodology, Empirical Studies, Judging

JEL Classification: K30, K39

Suggested Citation

Staudt, Nancy C. and VanderWeele, Tyler, Methodological Advances and Empirical Legal Scholarship: A Noted on the Cox and Miles' Voting Rights Act Study (May 29, 2009). Columbia Law Review Sidebar, Vol. 109, No. 42, 2009; Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 10-26. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1632972

Nancy Christine Staudt (Contact Author)

Washington University Law School ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

Tyler VanderWeele

Harvard University ( email )

1875 Cambridge Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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