Judicial Conflicts and Voting Agreement: Evidence from Interruptions at Oral Argument
37 Pages Posted: 20 Sep 2017 Last revised: 26 Mar 2018
Date Written: September 18, 2017
This Article asks whether observable conflicts between judges in a case—interruptions between Supreme Court justices during oral arguments—are associated with future breakdowns in voting agreement among the judges in the case. To do so, we built a dataset containing justice-to-justice interruptions in cases between 1960 to 2015, and employ a framework for measuring case outcomes that treats the outcomes as a set of agreements and disagreements between pairs of justices. We find that on average a judicial pair is 7 percent less likely to vote together in a case for each interruption that occurs in the case between the judicial pair in the oral argument. While a conflict between judges that leads to both interruptions and a breakdown in voting of the coalition is one possible explanation of the finding, it is not the only; an interruption could instead just reflect something about cases that are more prone to disagreement or something about the way the interrupting justice views the case. We set out an empirical strategy that isolates the conflict explanation from these and other possible explanations and find that the conflict inherent in interruptions explains over half of the relationship between interruptions and disagreement.
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