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
Date Written: July 14, 2018
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.
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