Background and environmental effects on federal district court policy outputs



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



This dissertation explores the relationship between federal district judges' backgrounds and their liberal or conservative policypropensities. The 21,142 federal district court opinions involving liberal/conservative questions issued from 1933-1972 serve as the data base. The large number of cases enabled the researcher to control for temporal and spatial differences as well as for whether the opinion stemmed from criminal, class discrimination, freedom expression, labor, or economic regulation cases. The effect of political party affiliation, appointing president, and length of judicial tenure were tested. None of these background characteristics explained as much variance in judicial liberalism/conservatism as did simple differences among case categories, among circuits, and across time. Generally speaking, political party affiliation was the least powerful predictor of liberal or conservative opinions, although Democrats were slightly more liberal than Republicans. Appointing president was slightly more powerful, with Johnson appointees substantially more liberal than Nixon appointees and somewhat more liberal than judges appointed by other Democratic presidents. While political party affiliation was not important across the forty year time span, differences between Democrats and Republicans since the inauguration of Richard Nixon and appointment of Warren Burger in 1969 have increased rapidly. Thus, the dissertation concludes by proposing a hueristic model of federal district judge policy propensities organized around change across time, which seeks to identify significant shifts in the relationship between policy propensity and politically relevant background characteristics.