Forecasting Opinion Assignment on the Supreme Court
25 Pages Posted: 15 Jul 2012 Last revised: 6 Sep 2012
Date Written: 2012
Opinion assignment is one of the Chief Justice’s principal responsibilities on the U.S Supreme Court. Recognizing that this task provides the Chief a key opportunity to shape Court outcomes and agendas, political scientists have examined historical assignment patterns in an attempt to discover the causal factors that determine how opinions are assigned. This body of research reveals that multiple factors — both attitudinal and organizational — may underlie the opinion assignment process. While incorporating the theoretical and empirical contributions of previous studies, this project seeks to take extant research to the next level: a forecasting model designed to predict future opinion assignments. Each year, sources like SCOTUSblog attempt to predict opinion assignment and associated case outcomes for future cases — predictions often reiterated through various media outlets. In an effort to ground these armchair predictions in viable theory and a systematic forecasting model, this paper, first, develops an explanatory model of opinion assignment based upon the 2004-2008 Supreme Court terms and, second, uses this model to assesses the probabilities of opinion assignment for each justice with respect to cases decided during an out-of-sample 2010 term.
Keywords: Supreme Court, opinion assignment, judicial politics, chief justice
JEL Classification: D70
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation