Politics, Polarization, and the U.S. Supreme Court

with Moohyung Cho and Georg Vanberg. Appears in The U.S. Supreme Court and Contemporary Constitutional Law: The Obama Era and Its Legacy (Routledge/Nomos).

In recent decades, the American political system has become increasingly polarized. Has this trend affected the U.S. Supreme Court? In this chapter, we approach the question empirically through seven decades’ worth of data on the nomination, confirmation, law clerk hires, and voting behaviors of the justices. We find strong evidence of increased polarization in the perceived ideology of nominees and in the Senate’s confirmation process. However, polarization’s impact is less clear-cut where the behavior of the justices themselves is concerned. While new patterns such as ideological homophily in the clerk hiring process and partisan sorting in voting behaviors point toward greater polarization, network analysis of the voting coalitions reveals that moderate levels of polarization are not new to the Court. (PDF)

Automated Text Analysis in Judicial Politics

with Georg Vanberg. Forthcoming in Concepts, Data, and Methods in Comparative Law and Politics (Cambridge).

The emergence of automated text analysis has opened up possibilities for the systematic analysis of large quantities of legal documents on a previously unimaginable scale. This is a development that has the potential to allow social scientists to "take law seriously" in the sense of moving beyond the relatively simple measures that have dominated quantitative work in judicial politics to richer and more nuanced measures of the substantive content of legal texts. This paper provides an introduction to automated text analysis methods for scholars in judicial politics. In addition to laying out the intuition behind the most important methods, we provide an application of these methods to a prominent recent legal dispute (the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Affordable Care Act), and consider the promise and potential pitfalls of automated text analysis in the study of courts and legal systems. (PDF)

Testing Legislator Responsiveness to Citizens and Firms in Single-Party Regimes: A Field Experiment in the Vietnamese National Assembly

with Eddy Malesky, Anh Le, and Anh Tran. Under review.

Our project aims to establish whether targeted provision of constituents' preferences increases the responsiveness of delegates to the Vietnamese National Assembly (VNA). Utilizing a randomized control trial, we assign legislators to one of three groups: (1) those briefed on the opinions of their provincial citizenry; (2) those presented with the preferences of local firms; and (3) those receiving no informational treatment whatsoever. We also employ a saturation design, applying the treatments to differing shares of delegates across provinces. After the summer 2018 session, we collected behavioral data on delegates from the legislative session, including answers to a VNA Library survey about debate preparation; the identity of speakers in group caucuses, query sessions, and floor debates; and the textual content of those speeches. We find consistent evidence that citizen-treated delegates were more responsive, via debate preparation and the decision to speak; evidence from speech content is more mixed. More speculatively, we find little evidence of spillover from treated to untreated delegates, but substantial evidence of treatment reinforcement. Citizen-treated delegates grew more responsive as more of their peers possessed identical information. (Draft available upon request.)

Stacking in State Legislative Committees: Strategic Choice or Statistical Artifact?

Under review.

Do majority parties manipulate legislative committee assignments in an effort to bias legislative outcomes in their favor? While the existing literature generally finds little evidence of "partisan stacking" and "ideological stacking" within state legislatures, a recent contribution to the debate challenges this empirical consensus by claiming strong evidence of both. In this paper, I demonstrate that both findings are largely statistical artifacts of the authors' empirical approach, with little evidence of across-the-board strategic behavior. Hewing closely to partisan theories of legislative organization, I examine the influence of contextual and institutional factors on partisan and ideological stacking. I find that partisan stacking is more likely in chambers endowing committees with strong gatekeeping powers and in committees possessing narrow jurisdictions and broader legislative importance. While the average state legislative committee may not be the "tool" of the majority, those few that are conform well to theoretical expectations. (Draft available upon request.)

Differences of Opinion: Measuring Polarization at the U.S. Supreme Court via Bipartite Networks of Opinion Coalitions

In progress.

The United States Supreme Court has historically been viewed as "above the fray" of ordinary politics. Yet as polarization has intensified throughout the body politic, popular discourse has increasingly questioned the assumption of apolitical judges. But is political polarization detectable in the Supreme Court's judicial output? Leveraging new data on natural courts, opinions, and the coalitions which sustain them, I construct a series of bipartite networks embodying agreement and disagreement over legal rationales. Spectral partitioning recovers the modularity-maximizing assignment of justices and opinions to one of two mutually exclusive blocs, while the associated modularity score assesses the relative goodness of fit. I adopt bipartite modularity as a measure of polarization on collegial courts, and estimate it at the term and natural court level from 1791 to 2017. I find that polarization remained low throughout much of the Court's history, rising sharply only after the Judiciary Act of 1925 dramatically increased the Court's discretionary jurisdiction. In marked contrast to conventional wisdom, polarization has been both moderate and relatively steady from the Vinson Court to the present. I also illustrate bloc memberships for selected periods, demonstrate the facial validity of the polarization measure, and investigate the impact of polarization on the Court's case selection process. (Draft available upon request.)

The Impact of the Filibuster Threat on the Confirmation of Federal Appellate Judges

with Georg Vanberg. In progress.

Toward a Doctrinal Common Space: How to Scale the Federal Appellate Judiciary

In progress.

Building on important recent work, I propose a new measure of judicial preferences that is rooted in a uniquely judicial behavior, acknowledges the centrality of precedent, and can be estimated for all federal appellate judges. The present paper motivates the measure, describes the necessary data and resultant challenges, and presents preliminary results---a doctrinal common space for federal judges. (Draft available upon request.)

Toy Parliaments or Some Assembly Required? The Origins and Effects of Authoritarian Legislatures Reconsidered

On hold.

With the ebb of democratization's "third wave" and ensuing "democratic recession", scholarly interest in authoritarian regimes has surged. Largely coeval with a boom in new institutionalist approaches to political science, the discipline's renewed attention to authoritarian regimes has frequently trained its sights upon the political institutions of dictatorship. This survey attempts to organize and synthesize the sub-literature on authoritarian legislatures. In the process, it raises several concerns, including the paucity of micro-level evidence, roughly operationalized concepts, issues of causal identification, epiphenomenality, and a narrow focus on stability and growth. Future avenues for fruitful future research are then proposed. (Draft available upon request.)