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

38 Pages Posted: 29 Jun 2018 Last revised: 25 Jul 2018

See all articles by Elliott Ash

Elliott Ash

ETH Zürich

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

Wei Lu

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, Students

Date Written: July 14, 2018

Abstract

We document motivated reasoning among federal appellate judges. We employ a supervised learning approach to measure polarization of text and citations of court opinions. Our results show persistent but low partisanship of language in court opinions in the past century, with greater partisanship in civil rights and First Amendment issues. For court citations, we observe a significant level and increase in polarization. We also document an increase in vote polarization–dissenting only against judges appointed by the opposing party’s president. Finally, we show an increase in retirement polarization–strategically timing retirements that sclerotize the judiciary and stymie democratic churn.

Suggested Citation

Ash, Elliott and Chen, Daniel L. and Lu, Wei, Motivated Reasoning in the Field: Polarization in Precedent, Prose, Vote, and Retirement in U.S. Circuit Courts, 1800-2013 (July 14, 2018). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3205116 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3205116

Elliott Ash

ETH Zürich ( email )

Rämistrasse 101
ZUE F7
Zürich, 8092
Switzerland

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

Wei Lu (Contact Author)

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, Students ( email )

Toronto, ON
Canada

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