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Wolfers in NYT Upshot: "How Gorsuch could pull the eight other justices rightward"

April 5, 2017

Justin Wolfers' April 4, 2017 article for The New York Times' "The Upshot," "How Gorsuch could pull the eight other justices rightward," examines recently published research on the effects of peer-judge ideology on the U.S. Supreme Court.

According to "Peer Effects on the United States Supreme Court," by Richard Holden (University of New South Wales), Michael Keane (Oxford University), and Matthew Lilley (Harvard University), liberal and conservative justices influence the decisions made by their peers. 

They base their theory on the examination of over 100,000 Supreme Court decisions made since 1946. As Wolfers points out, "The implication is that the appointment of a conservative jurist like Judge Gorsuch, rather than a centrist-liberal like Merrick Garland, would lead the other eight justices to vote in a relatively more conservative direction."

"Court watchers expect that Judge Gorsuch would follow in the mold of Justice Scalia, who voted for the more conservative outcome 68 percent of the time," Wolfers says. "By contrast, Judge Garland is roughly as liberal as the Court’s most recent retiree, Justice John Paul Stevens, who voted for the more conservative outcome 39 percent of the time. The difference suggests that giving the ninth vote to Judge Gorsuch rather than Judge Garland would yield a conservative vote in 29 percent more cases."

"All of this says that the current battle in the Senate goes far beyond the current Supreme Court nominee," Wolfers concludes. "It is likely to alter how the other eight justices will lean as well."

--By Jackson Voss (MPP '18)

Justin Wolfers is a professor of public policy at the Ford School and a professor of economics in the department of economics. Wolfers' research interests include labor economics, macroeconomics, political economy, economics of the family, social policy, law and economics, and behavioral economics.