Motivated Reasoning in the Field: Polarization in Precedent, Prose, Vote, and Retirement in U.S. Circuit Courts, 1800-2013

Posted: 29 Jun 2018 Last revised: 13 Jan 2022

See all articles by Wei Lu

Wei Lu

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto

Daniel L. Chen

Directeur de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Toulouse School of Economics, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, University of Toulouse Capitole, Toulouse, France

Date Written: August 10, 2020

Abstract

We document motivated reasoning among U.S. Circuit Court judges. We employ a supervised learning approach to measure partisan influences on prose (writing style), precedent (citations to previous cases), and policy (dissenting votes). We find persistent but low partisanship of language overall, with the notable exception of Civil Rights, Labor Relations and First Amendment jurisprudence. Citations display a significant level of partisanship and increase over time. Voting along party lines (dissenting against judges from opposing party) and strategic retirement (retiring while one’s own party controls the presidency) have also increased. Motivated reasoning is predictive of decisions in the Supreme Court and grows with judicial experience.

Suggested Citation

Lu, Wei and Chen, Daniel L., Motivated Reasoning in the Field: Polarization in Precedent, Prose, Vote, and Retirement in U.S. Circuit Courts, 1800-2013 (August 10, 2020). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3205116 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3205116

Wei Lu (Contact Author)

Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto ( email )

Toronto, Ontario
Canada

Daniel L. Chen

Directeur de Recherche, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Toulouse School of Economics, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, University of Toulouse Capitole, Toulouse, France ( email )

Toulouse School of Economics
1, Esplanade de l'Université
Toulouse, 31080
France

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