Working Papers

Judicial Independence and Political Competition: Comparing Democracies Over Time (with Joshua Boston and David Carlson)

Scholars of comparative courts have long been fascinated with variations in judicial independence across states, regimes, and time. Whether independence, in turn, depends on political competition remains an open question, as extant research has reached uncertain conclusions, often relying on questionable assumptions and data sources. This paper presents a formal model predicting the conditions under which legislative political competition causes a political power vacuum, which necessitates judicial independence and policy making. In short, when an ineffectual legislature cannot address a policy-seeker’s proposal, the courts can intervene, causing a de facto increase in judicial independence. Empirical results confirm these theoretically derived expectations, as aggregate measures of political competition across space and time cause significant changes in de facto judicial independence. Our findings have practical implications regarding when we might observe policy-seekers litigating issues rather than seeking legislation.

Works in Progress

Attention to Precedent in a Judicial Hierarchy (with Thomas G. Hansford and James F. Spriggs, II)

Who controls the federal judicial agenda? Judicial agenda setting studies typically focus on the Supreme Court’s agenda setting ability by considering individual case selection or attention to broad issue areas by the Court. We re-conceptualize the judicial agenda as attention to precedent and study the agenda setting ability of courts at all levels of the federal judicial hierarchy. We use decades of Supreme Court, appeals court, and district court citations to 30 randomly selected landmark precedents to estimate a series of vector autoregression models that allow us to identify how each level of court initiates or responds to variation in the attention to a given precedent in other levels of court. The results reveal a new empirical regularity: while the Supreme Court may exert some top-down control of the federal judicial agenda, lower courts play an important role in influencing attention to precedent at the Court.