Do Law Clerks Influence Voting on the Supreme Court?

69 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2016 Last revised: 7 Jan 2017

Adam Bonica

Stanford University Department of Political Science

Adam S. Chilton

University of Chicago - Law School

Jacob Goldin

Stanford Law School

Kyle Rozema

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: January 5, 2017

Abstract

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.

Keywords: Judicial Decision-Making, Personnel Economics, Law Clerks

JEL Classification: M51

Suggested Citation

Bonica, Adam and Chilton, Adam S. and Goldin, Jacob and Rozema, Kyle and Sen, Maya, Do Law Clerks Influence Voting on the Supreme Court? (January 5, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2815545

Adam Bonica

Stanford University Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Adam S. Chilton (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Law School ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.adamchilton.org

Jacob Goldin

Stanford Law School ( email )

559 Nathan Abbott Way
Stanford, CA 94305-8610
United States

Kyle Rozema

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.kylerozema.com

Maya Sen

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

HOME PAGE: http://scholar.harvard.edu/msen

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