Justices, Presidents and Politicians: A Strategic Account of Supreme Court Nominations

Matthew Mitchell

Major Professor: Thomas Stratmann

Committee Members: Alexander Tabarrok, Todd Zywicki, Francesco Parisi

Hazel Hall, 412
November 16, 2008, 07:00 PM to 07:00 PM


Rational choice models of the Supreme Court have tended to follow one of two accounts: the attitudinal or the strategic account.

A subset of strategic models, known as "separation of powers" models, examines strategic interaction between justices and politicians. Thus far, however, these models ignore an important dimension over which justices and politicians might bargain: the ideology of new members of the Court. A more complete separation of powers model would include the possibility that sitting justices might take the nominating decisions of the political branches into account when they vote. It would also include the possibility that politicians might take the voting habits of sitting members into account when they select new members of the Court. In Chapter Two, I introduce a spatial model that, to the best of my knowledge, is the first to account for this type of inter-branch bargaining. I show that, somewhat surprisingly, justices and politicians have more to gain the less they agree. In Chapter Three, I expand the model by introducing imperfect information and model the interaction in a game theoretic. I demonstrate the important role that uncertainty may play in facilitating exchange. In Chapter Four, I make use of a natural experiment to test the hypothesis that justices accommodate the political branches in an effort to influence their selection of new members of the Court. I find that liberal justices seem to deviate from their usual voting patterns when the political branches are considering new appointees to the Court.

This may be taken as some support for the strategic account presented here.