Clark, Tom S., Benjamin Engst, and Jeffrey K. Staton, "Estimating the Effect of Leisure on Judicial Performance"
Normative concerns often lead designers of political institutions to insulate judges from direct accountability and oversight that creates pressure on their decision making. However, such insulation undermines performance-relevant incentives and can give rise to shirking by judges. To understand the consequences of such shirking for the judicial process, we take advantage of an annual sporting event that creates differential distractions across judges. Using a difference-in-differences design, we show that when a judge’s team is participating in the NCAA Mens’ Basketball Tournament, the judge decides cases more slowly during the time the Tournament takes place. We also show those opinions are cited more negatively by subsequent decisions. These findings suggest a lack of direct accountability for their work product that is often part of political independence has deleterious consequences for the material judicial product. The findings also have implications for possible institutional design solutions.
Canes-Wrone, Brandice, Tom S. Clark, and Amy Semet, "Do Judicial Elections Affect Decisions on Lower Salience Issues?"
Recent research has found that judicial elections affect judges' decisions on hot-button campaign issues such as the death penalty, criminal sentencing, and abortion. Yet scholars have paid little attention to less salient issues, which encompass the vast majority of cases. We consider how existing theories apply to judicial behavior over issues of more moderate salience and examine these predictions on an issue that infrequently emerges as a judicial campaign topic: environmental law. Specifically, the data include approximately 5,000 judicial votes on over 900 cases heard in forty state supreme courts from 1990-2014. Contrary to research on hot-button issues, these findings suggest judges face the most pressure to cater to public opinion in systems with partisan ballots. Moreover, public opinion has little to no effect in other selection systems. These results suggest that the effects for high salience issues may not extend to judicial decision making broadly.
Beim, Deborah, Tom S. Clark, and Benjamin E. Lauderdale, "The Effects of Panel Assignment on the US Court of Appeals in Death Penalty Cases"
We use the random assignment of three judge panels on the US Court of Appeals to measure the preferences of individual judges for granting relief in death penalty appeals, and how they are aggregated into decisions. We provide evidence that judges on the US Court of Appeals for the 5th, 6th, 9th, and 11th Circuits apply highly inconsistent thresholds for relief from death penalty sentences. We will also examine ultimate effects of random panel assignment on whether and when appellants are executed and quantify the consequences of inconsistency in death penalty appeals.
Clark, Tom S., B. Pablo Montagnes, and Jörg L. Spenkuch, "Politics from the Bench? Ideology and Strategic Voting in the Us Supreme Court"
Supreme Court justices often vote along ideological lines. Is this due to a genuinely different interpretation of the law, or does it reflect justices' desire to re- solve politically-charged legal questions in accordance with their personal views? To study this question, we differentiate between votes that were pivotal and those that were not. We find that, when a justice's choice determines the outcome of a case, her ideology plays an even greater role in determining her decision|both relative to her choices on other cases and relative to other justices voting on the same case. The data allow us to reject theories of sincere voting as well as explanations according to which ambiguous signals about the merits of a case force justices to fall back on ideology as a form of tie breaker. Our counterfactuals suggest that "politics from the bench" determines the outcome of approximately 8% of 5-4 splits.