ObamaCourts? The Impact of Judicial Nominations on Court Ideology

31 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2014 Last revised: 6 May 2015

See all articles by Brian S. Clarke

Brian S. Clarke

Unaffiliated; Washington & Lee University School of Law; Charlotte School of Law; Western Carolina University - College of Business

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

Clarke, Brian S., ObamaCourts? The Impact of Judicial Nominations on Court Ideology (September 8, 2014). 30 University of Virginia Journal of Law and Politics 191 (2014), Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2493773

Brian S. Clarke (Contact Author)

Unaffiliated ( email )

United States

Washington & Lee University School of Law

Lexington, VA 24450
United States

Charlotte School of Law

2145 Suttle Avenue
Charlotte, NC 28208
United States

Western Carolina University - College of Business

Forsyth Hall 122G
Cullowhee, NC 28723
United States
828.227.7412 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.wcu.edu/learn/departments-schools-colleges/cob/

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