Does Ideology Matter in Bankruptcy? Voting Behavior on the Courts of Appeals

68 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2010 Last revised: 12 Jun 2012

See all articles by Jonathan Remy Nash

Jonathan Remy Nash

Emory University School of Law

Rafael I. Pardo

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: July 14, 2010


This Article empirically examines the question of whether courts of appeals judges cast ideological votes in the context of bankruptcy. The empirical study is unique insofar as it is the first to specifically examine the voting behavior of circuit court judges in bankruptcy cases. More importantly, it focuses on a particular type of dispute that arises in bankruptcy - debt-dischargeability determinations. The study implements this focused approach in order to reduce heterogeneity in result. We find, contrary to our hypotheses, no evidence that circuit court judges engage in ideological voting in bankruptcy cases. We do find, however, non-ideological factors - including the race of the judge and the disposition of the case by lower courts - that substantially influence the voting pattern of the judges in our study.

The Article makes three broad contributions. First, it indicates that bankruptcy voting is comparatively non-ideological, at least at the level of the courts of appeals. Second, by identifying the influence of certain non-ideological factors on voting behavior, the Article suggests avenues for profitable future research. And third, the Article makes a methodological contribution through its fine-grained approach, which demonstrates the importance of focusing on particular legal issues in order to reduce heterogeneity in, and bolster the reliability of, findings from empirical legal studies.

Keywords: courts, judges, empirical, bankruptcy, appeals, appellate structure

Suggested Citation

Nash, Jonathan and Pardo, Rafael I., Does Ideology Matter in Bankruptcy? Voting Behavior on the Courts of Appeals (July 14, 2010). William & Mary Law Review, Vol. 53, No. 3, pp. 919-985, 2012, 5th Annual Conference on Empirical Legal Studies Paper, Emory Law and Economics Research Paper No. 11-100, Emory Public Law Research Paper No. 11-146, University of Washington School of Law Research Paper No. 2011-08, Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Nash

Emory University School of Law ( email )

1301 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA 30322
United States

Rafael I. Pardo (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Anheuser-Busch Hall 585
1 Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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