An exploration of environmental influences on judicial policy-making by federal district judges

Date

1979

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Abstract

The general assumption underlying this exploratory study is that federal district judges are influenced by the environment within which they operate. Both local and national environmental influences are explored. Opinions published in the Federal Supplement between 1933-1972 (N=21,142) for which a liberal/conservative dimension could be ascertained provided the basic data base. The Federal Supplement also provided information on the name of the judge/opinion writer; the court point from which the opinion was issued; the number of judges at the court point; and the state and district in which the court was located. Who"s Who and Congressional Quarterly Almanac provided the party affiliation of each opinion writer. The first three substantive chapters explored the influence of the local environment. Overall, we found that opinions written by judges at multi-judge court points were not significantly more liberal than those written by judges at single-judge court points. The most important exception was in racial minority discrimination cases. Also, we found that there was little difference in liberalism between districts in those states having more than one district. The only major differences appeared when the districts captured important sectional differences within a state. Finally, there were no significant differences in the percentage of liberal opinions issued by judges in right-to-work and union shop states. The last three substantive chapters assessed the influence of significant events such as Supreme Court decisions. Congressional Acts, and public opinion changes on federal district opinions. In each of these chapters we analyzed opinions written within a specific period of time before and after the significant event. The number of published opinions changed more rapidly in response to the event than the liberal/conservative dimension of the opinion. The major changes in liberalism/conservatism came about as a result of a combination of significant events. Supreme Court decisions, however, appeared to be the most prominent influence. The study concludes with some suggestions for future research. It is suggested that the data base be extended to include cases decided after 1972. Also, it is suggested that future studies continue to concentrate on opinions written in time periods closely paralleling the occurrence of significant events such as those utilized in this study.

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Keywords

Judges--United States, Judicial process--United States--Environmental aspects, Law--Political aspects

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