Quantitative Economics, Volume 12, Issue 3 (July 2021)
Peer effects on the United States Supreme Court
Using data on essentially every U.S. Supreme Court decision since 1946, we estimate a model of peer effects on the Court. We estimate the impact of justice ideology and justice votes on the votes of their peers. To identify the 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, and justices are generally much less likely to overturn decisions in cases sourced from their former “home” court. We find large peer effects. For example, we can use our model to predict the impact of replacing Justice Ginsburg with Justice Barrett. Under the the assumption that Justice Barrett's ideological position aligns closely with Justice Scalia, for whom she clerked, we predict that her influence on the Court will increase the Conservative vote propensity of the other justices by 4.7 percentage points. That translates into 0.38 extra conservative votes per case on top of the impact of her own vote. In general, we find indirect effects are large relative to the direct mechanical effect of a justice's own vote.
Peer effects Supreme Court voting political economy C31 C33 D72 K40
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