'While There's a Breath in My Body': The Systemic Effects of Politically Motivated Retirement from the Supreme Court

40 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2010

See all articles by Michael Bailey

Michael Bailey

Georgetown University - Department of Government

Albert Yoon

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 1, 2010

Abstract

Many observers of the U.S. Supreme Court suspect that justices time their departures from the Court based on ideological and political factors. This paper assesses the theoretical eff ects of such behavior. Does political timing of retirement devalue the appointment process and thereby make the Court less responsive to the public? Do politically motivated retirements lead to more justices serving beyond their productive years? Based on a formal model of retirements, we fi nd that politically motivated retirements have little e ffect on political influence on the Court because, on average, for every liberal justice who declines to retire because there is a Republican president, there is a conservative justice who retires early because there is a Republican president. The model also implies modest, but non-linear eff ects of politically motivated retirement on the age composition of the Court as small amounts of such behavior leads to an older Court, but large amounts of politically motivated behavior lead to a younger Court. Imposing term limits on justices would increase responsiveness to electoral outcomes, lower the age of justices and dramatically increase Court turnover.

Keywords: Supreme Court, Retirement, Positive Political Theory

JEL Classification: C15, K40

Suggested Citation

Bailey, Michael and Yoon, Albert, 'While There's a Breath in My Body': The Systemic Effects of Politically Motivated Retirement from the Supreme Court (November 1, 2010). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1722275 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1722275

Michael Bailey

Georgetown University - Department of Government ( email )

ICC, Suite 681
Washington, DC 20057-1034
United States
202-687-6021 (Phone)
202-687-5858 (Fax)

Albert Yoon (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 and 84 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5
Canada

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