ObamaCourts? The Impact of Judicial Nominations on Court Ideology
31 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2014 Last revised: 6 May 2015
Date Written: September 8, 2014
The federal Courts of Appeals are the courts of last resort for the vast majority of contested legal issues and decide the cases that are of the greatest importance for the development of the law in the United States. Presidents seek to leave their political and ideological marks on these courts through their judicial nominations. But what happens when a new president nominates judges to a Court of Appeals with a collective ideology different than his or her own? What near term effect do these new judges have on the overall ideology of the Courts of Appeals on which they serve? Given the body of precedent each Court of Appeals builds over years and decades, can new judges have a meaningful impact on the overall ideology of a Court of Appeals in the near term?
This paper seeks to begin answering these questions by engaging in the first ever quantitative analysis of the near term impact of a president’s successful judicial nominees on the ideology of a federal Court of Appeals. Specifically, this study analyzes the outcomes of all of the labor and employment law decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit (the study group) and the Eighth Circuit (the control group) from 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 to determine what impact President Obama's six (6) successful first-term nominees to the Fourth Circuit bench had on that court's collective ideology.
The results of this study show a statistically significant shift in the Fourth Circuit's overall ideology toward the stereotypically "liberal" end of the ideological spectrum in 2010 and 2012 as President Obama's nominees took their seats. As these results illustrate, new judges can have a significant impact on the ideology of a Court of Appeals in the near term and can even alter the court’s overall ideology.
Keywords: quantitative, empirical, federal courts, litigation, Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit, Eighth Circuit, conservative, liberal, judicial ideology, political ideology, judicial nominations, Obama, Title VII, ERISA, NLRA, labor, employment, FLSA, FMLA, ADA, ADEA, USERRA, LMRA, ideology
JEL Classification: C12, K31, K41
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation