Working Papers

  • "Breadth in Judicial Opinions"

Abstract: In written opinions, courts not only establish legal rules, but also set the scope of these rules. They can choose to set policy narrowly, applying to a restricted set of future cases, or broadly, applying to a bigger set. Most precedent setting courts consist of multiple members, likely with varying preferences over policy and breadth. As a result, an opinion writing judge on a multi-member court faces a potential tradeoff between these two interests. While the opinion author might achieve policy closer to her ideal by writing a narrow opinion, she could still benefit from a broad opinion that sets policy farther away. In this paper, I develop a formal model of opinion writing on a court which allows judges to endogenously determine the scope of the rule. I characterize the conditions for broad or narrow opinions and the types of coalitions that support either. I show that all narrow opinions pass with ideologically connected coalitions, which consist entirely of ideologically adjacent judges. Ideologically disconnected coalitions, however, may only form in support of some broad opinions. Further, narrow opinions only occur if judges place differential weights on areas of the law.

Abstract: How do ideological factors explain the citation patterns of federal courts? Current literature uses citation data in myriad ways, but leaves open the question of how ideological factors within a court's control may influence subsequent citation from each level of the judicial hierarchy differently. Combining original data on citations to Supreme Court opinions by district courts from 1969 to 2005 with existing data on citations by the courts of appeals and Supreme Court, I present a more complete portrait of the scope of a precedent across the federal judiciary. I find that ideological considerations relevant to the precedent-setting court affect citation to the precedent. Further, a change in Supreme Court ideology between the time of setting a precedent and the year of citation impacts the various levels of the federal court differently. These results suggest that the relationship between ideology and precedent applicability is complicated by the distinct institutional features of the Supreme Court, courts of appeals and district courts.

Work in Progress

  • "The Rule of Four and the Shrinking Docket" with Lawrence Rothenberg

  • "Bureaucrats and Politicians: Cooperation Between Elected and Appointed Law Enforcement"

  • "Career Incentives of Federal Judges" with Maria Silfa