Dancey, Logan, Kjersten R. Nelson, and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2020. It’s Not Personal: Politics and Policy in Lower Court Confirmation Hearings. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
In order to be confirmed to a lifetime appointment on the federal bench, all district and circuit court nominees must appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing. Despite their relatively low profile, these lower court judges make up 99 percent of permanent federal judgeships and decide cases that relate to a wide variety of policy areas. To uncover why senators hold confirmation hearings for lower federal court nominees and the value of these proceedings more generally, the authors analyzed transcripts for all district and circuit court confirmation hearings between 1993 and 2012, the largest systematic analysis of lower court confirmation hearings to date. The book finds that the time-consuming practice of confirmation hearings for district and circuit court nominees provides an important venue for senators to advocate on behalf of their policy preferences and bolster their chances of being re-elected. The wide variation in lower court nominees’ experiences before the Judiciary Committee exists because senators pursue these goals in different ways, depending on the level of controversy surrounding a nominee. Ultimately, the findings inform a (re)assessment of the role hearings play in ensuring quality judges, providing advice and consent, and advancing the democratic values of transparency and accountability.
Dancey, Logan, Kjersten R. Nelson, Eve M. Ringsmuth, and Emma Solomon. “Invoking Precedent: The Discussion of Supreme Court Decisions at Circuit Court Confirmation Hearings.” Accepted for publication at American Politics Research.
Judicial confirmation hearings offer a rare opportunity for senators to engage in a public exchange with current and future members of the federal judiciary. Below the Supreme Court level, however, we know relatively little about how members of the Judiciary Committee use these hearings. In this paper, we examine senator mentions of Supreme Court cases at circuit court confirmation hearings between 1993 and 2012 to test whether these hearings serve as a venue for position-taking, as well as inter-branch dialogue. We find evidence that senators do reference decisions in ways that seem motivated by electoral considerations. However, we also find that hearings are frequently used as a forum for inter-branch dialogue over Supreme Court cases. When used in this fashion, the dialogue is often focused on cases that challenge congressional power. The results suggest that confirmation hearings are an underappreciated venue for inter-branch conversations.
Ryan C. Black, Matthew E.K. Hall, Ryan J. Owens, and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2016. “The Role of Emotional Language in Briefs Before the U.S. Supreme Court.” Journal of Law and Courts 4(2): 377-407.
The legal brief is a primary vehicle by which lawyers seek to persuade appellate judges. Despite wide acceptance that briefs are important, empirical scholarship has yet to establish their influence on the Supreme Court or fully explore justices’ preferences regarding them. We argue emotional language conveys a lack of credibility to justices and thereby diminishes the party’s likelihood of garnering justices’ votes. The data concur. Using an automated textual analysis program, we find that parties who employ less emotional language in their briefs are more likely to win a justice’s vote, a result that holds even after controlling for other features correlated with success, such as case quality. These findings suggest advocates seeking to influence judges can enhance their credibility and attract justices’ votes by employing measured, objective language.
Findings described on SCOTUSblog. December 22, 2015. Available online at: http://goo.gl/JpKKXF
Bryan, Amanda C. and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2016. “Jeremiad or Weapon of Words? The Strategic Power of Emotive Language in Supreme Court Dissents.” Journal of Law and Courts 4(1): 159-185.
Unable to directly control the policy articulated by the Supreme Court, dissent- ing justices are faced with the challenge of finding alternative ways to pursue their policy goals. We argue that one strategy available to them is to use their power over the language of a dissenting opinion to increase the media attention paid to a case. Our results show that cases with negative dissents attract more media coverage, which creates a variety of mechanisms through which a dissenter’s policy preferences could be realized, such as inducing Congress to take action, influencing public debate on the issue, and provoking further litigation. This finding ultimately suggests that dissenters, while disadvantaged, are not powerless to affect legal policy.
Miller, Susan M., Eve M. Ringsmuth, and Joshua Little. 2015. “Pushing Constitutional Limits in the U.S. States: Professionalism and Judicial Review of State Laws by the U.S. Supreme Court.” State Politics & Policy Quarterly 15(4): 476-491.
When the U.S. Supreme Court exercises its power of judicial review over state laws, its decisions, like the legislation it considers, frequently speak to major policy debates. Despite the Court’s routine involvement with state statutes, theoretical explanations of judicial review generally do not distinguish between state laws and federal laws. The characteristics of state legislatures lead legislators in different states to have distinct perspectives and incentives, and ultimately affect the types of laws enacted in different states. We suggest that because the level of professionalism of state legislatures affects the types of laws pursued by different states, it may also affect the likelihood that a state has a law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court. We find support for this expectation. Specifically, legislative professionalism is associated with an increased likelihood that a state has a law invalidated by the Court. This new evidence indicates that it is important to consider the legislative context in which state laws originate when examining the Court’s review of state laws.
Ringsmuth, Eve M. 2015. “Voting Fluidity throughout the Decision-Making Process on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Justice System Journal 36(3): 197-211.
Judicial scholars have devoted significant effort to analyzing and understanding the implications of justices switching their votes during the opinion drafting stage, known as voting fluidity. Given that justices individually begin their consideration of the merits of cases with their preparation for oral arguments, I argue that these earlier positions in cases are valuable indicators of subsequent behavior, such as voting fluidity. More specifically, I find support for the notion that early fluidity, changing positions from before oral arguments to after, especially when combined with major shifts in the majority coalition, can be a bellwether of traditional fluidity. The analysis suggests that consideration of early fluidity and its motivations furthers our understanding of late fluidity above and beyond known indicators in the literature.
Dancey, Logan, Kjersten R. Nelson, and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2014. “Individual Scrutiny or Politics as Usual? Senatorial Assessment of U.S. District Court Nominees.” American Politics Research 42(5): 784-814.
Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings offer senators a public opportunity to exercise their “advice and consent” privilege and scrutinize presidential nominees. In this article, we examine the purpose and functioning of confirmation hearings for federal district court nominees, which make up the majority of presidential selections to federal courts. Using transcripts from all hearings between 1993 and 2008, we find the characteristics of individual nominees have little effect on the types of questions senators pose. Instead, larger institutional and political factors—such as Senate composition, party of the president, and proximity to a presidential election—are much better predictors of how senators use their opportunity to scrutinize nominees. The results indicate senators use hearings to engage in partisan and ideological position taking rather than to ascertain the qualifications of district court nominees.
Ringsmuth, Eve M., Amanda C. Bryan, and Timothy R. Johnson. 2013. “Voting Fluidity and Oral Argument on the U.S. Supreme Court.” Political Research Quarterly 66(2): 426-37.
Although scholars have established that oral arguments play a role in Supreme Court decision making, a fundamental question remains: can oral arguments change justices’ votes? Using data on the positions taken by Justices Blackmun and Powell prior to oral arguments, we seek to answer this question while implicitly addressing another: how effectively can attorneys persuade the Court during arguments dominated by justices attempting to persuade each other? We find that in a significant minority of cases, justices are persuaded to switch their vote as a result of oral argument and that high-quality attorneys play a central role in that persuasion.
Ringsmuth, Eve M. and Timothy R. Johnson. 2013. “Supreme Court Oral Arguments and Institutional Maintenance.” American Politics Research 41(4): 651-673.
Debate within judicial politics scholarship continues to focus on whether, and to what extent, the separation of powers system affects U.S. Supreme Court decision making. While both formal and empirical work points to such an effect, the literature has not addressed a fundamental part of this process – namely how justices learn about the preferences or possible reactions of Congress to potential Court decisions. In this paper we provide an answer by demonstrating justices use their limited time during oral arguments to seek such information. Specifically, using data from all orally argued cases between 1979 and 2003 we show that justices raise questions about Congress more often as the level of external constraint increases.
Nelson, Kjersten R., and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2013. “Inter-Institutional Dynamics: Assessments of the Supreme Court in a Separation of Powers Context.” Political Behavior 35(2): 357-382.
Using data collected from a survey experiment, we examine whether information about the nature of the interactions between the Supreme Court and Congress influences respondents’ assessments of the Court. We find that political sophistication is key to understanding how individuals incorporate the separation of powers context into their evaluations of the Court. Political sophisticates give the Court its highest assessments when told that the Court and Congress are often in disagreement, and that Congress is most responsible for this disagreement. Assessments of the Court are significantly lower, however, when sophisticates believe that high levels of disagreement between the Court and Congress are due to the Court’s actions and when these respondents believe that the Court and Congress agree a high proportion of the time. These results suggest that for political sophisticates, the Court’s institutional standing is related to the balance it strikes between deference to Congress and judicial independence.
Dancey, Logan, Kjersten R. Nelson, and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2011. “‘Strict Scrutiny?’ The Content of Senate Judicial Confirmation Hearings During the George W. Bush Administration.” Judicature 95(3): 126-135.
We explore the level of scrutiny G.W. Bush’s federal district and circuit court nominees face by examining their Senate confirmation hearings. Using the number of questions asked as a measure of scrutiny, the results reveal disparate treatment of nominees based on the level of the court, partisan divides, and nominee qualifications. In the end, not all nominees — especially at the district court level — receive “intense scrutiny.” Instead, a mix of political and nominee-specific factors shape the degree to which senators publicly vet nominees.
Nelson, Kjersten R. and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2009. “Departures from the Court: The Political Landscape and Institutional Constraints.” American Politics Research 37(3): 486-507.
Previous findings on whether U.S. Supreme Court justices include strategic factors in their decisions to leave the Court have been mixed. We use ideological distance measures to capture the political landscape and re-test the hypothesis that justices use strategic political considerations when making the decision to leave the Court. Employing a Cox model of proportional hazards, we find that justices do take ideological distance from the Senate into account when making retirement decisions. Thus, the evidence indicates that justices engage in strategic behavior when contemplating retirement.
Johnson, Timothy R., Ryan C. Black, and Eve M. Ringsmuth. 2009. “Hear Me Roar: What Provokes Supreme Court Justices to Dissent from the Bench?” Minnesota Law Review 93(5): 1560-1581 [Symposium].
In this paper we analyze the decision made by a dissent-writing justice about whether she will, in addition to handing down a written opinion, also orally announce her dissent from the bench. Such behavior has recently received limited attention owing to the behavior of Justice Ginsburg (see Greenhouse 2007), but no scholarly treatment–descriptive or systematic–has been provided as of yet. To fill this void we construct a novel dataset consisting of all available opinion announcement audio files from 1979-2005 (over 1200 in total), which we then transcribed and coded for the presence of an announced dissent. Using these data, we propose and test a statistical model where the decision to announce one’s dissent is a function of legal, ideological, and strategic variables. Results indicate that the decision to dissent from the bench is influenced by ideological and case salience factors.
Hellwig, Timothy T., Eve M. Ringsmuth, and John R. Freeman. 2008. “The American Public and the Room to Maneuver: Responsibility Attributions and Policy Efficacy in an Era of Globalization.” International Studies Quarterly 52(4): 855-880.
Despite the increasing integration of markets, most political scientists contend that governments retain much policy “room to maneuver.” Moreover, citizens presumably support further economic integration because they believe their governments can cushion the impacts of market forces. In this sense, globalization is compatible with democracy. Rarely, however, are data provided that demonstrate citizens’ appreciation for the room to maneuver, let alone their positive evaluation of it. Who do citizens identify as most responsible for the performance of the U.S. economy: elected officials or national and international market forces? Which citizens attribute economic performance to these forces and not to their elected officials? In this paper, we report results from an original experiment designed to answer these questions. We find that a good number of Americans believe that their government retains the room to maneuver. However, there exists a substantial minority that does not. We show, consistent with recent developments in the study of political psychology on distal associations and partisan motivated reasoning, that this minority is characterized according to partisanship, knowledge levels, and age. Republican partisans and more educated citizens believe there is less room to maneuver more than Democratic partisans and members of older age cohorts. Generational factors also shape beliefs in the efficacy of policy control. Finally, priming subjects to think about economic globalization does not affect their responsibility attributions. The choice set matters, however. When provided the option, a significant number of respondents assign responsibility to market forces rather than elected officials.