Do Law Clerks Influence Voting on the Supreme Court?
Stanford University Department of Political Science
Adam S. Chilton
University of Chicago - Law School
Stanford Law School
Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law
Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)
January 5, 2017
Justices on the U.S. Supreme Court typically hire law clerks to help them perform their duties. We study whether these clerks influence how Supreme Court justices vote on the cases argued before them. To do so, we exploit the timing of the clerkship hiring process to link variation in clerk ideology to variation in judicial voting. We measure clerk ideology by matching clerks to the universe of publicly disclosed political donations. Our results suggest a positive and statistically significant effect of clerk ideology on judicial voting: justices cast approximately 4% more conservative votes in terms employing their most conservative clerks, as compared to terms in which they employ their most liberal clerks. We find larger effects in cases that are higher profile, cases that are legally significant, and cases in which the justices are more evenly divided. We interpret our results as providing suggestive evidence that clerk influence operates through persuasion rather than delegation of decision-making responsibility.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 69
Keywords: Judicial Decision-Making, Personnel Economics, Law Clerks
JEL Classification: M51
Date posted: August 1, 2016 ; Last revised: January 7, 2017