Peer Effects on the United States Supreme Court
43 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2019 Last revised: 10 Aug 2020
Date Written: August 10, 2020
Using data on essentially every US Supreme Court decision since 1946, we estimate a model of peer effects on the Court. We consider both the impact of justice ideology and justice votes on the votes of their peers. To identify these peer effects we use two instruments that generate plausibly exogenous variation in the peer group itself, or in the votes of peers. The ﬁrst instrument utilizes the fact that the composition of the Court varies from case to case due to recusals or absences for health reasons. The second utilizes the fact that many justices previously sat on Federal Circuit Courts. Those who served on the Circuit Courts for short (long) periods of time are empirically much more (less) likely to afﬁrm decisions from their “home” court. We ﬁnd large peer effects. Replacing a single justice with one who votes in a conservative direction 10 percentage points more frequently increases the probability that each other justice votes conservative by 1.6 percentage points. Further, a 10% increase in the probability that a given justice votes conservative leads to a 1.1 percentage point increase in the probability that each other justice votes conservative. This indirect effect increases the share of cases with a conservative outcome by 3.6 percentage points (excluding the direct effect of the new justice). In general, we ﬁnd indirect effects are large relative to the direct mechanical effect of a justice’s own vote.
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