Supreme Court Justices Get More Liberal Over Time

Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 07:39 am
I saw this article at fivethirtyeight.com and thought is was fascinating. Since 1937, both Republican and Democratic appointed justices get more liberal as they age. The article suggests some possible reasons, I'm sure we can come up with some more. Just think, if Scalia can make it to 100, we might get a liberal vote from him. (Don't think there is any hope for Thomas.)


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Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 08:12 am
Hmm, that's weird.

I notice that the current conservative justices seem to have a "hump" in their ideology. They start off becoming more conservative, and then reverse direction. The liberals just descend into more liberalism.

Very weird. I don't know how to explain it. I read the article and wasn't convinced by any of their theories either.

Maybe it's just not a large enough sample size and it's spurious data.
Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 08:29 am
I think part of it might be the type of cases that the court takes up, but if you look at that graph with all the justices since the 30's, it looks pretty consistent.

I wonder if it has to do with money. Supreme Court justices are decently paid. My observation is that on average, the more comfortable you are in life, the more you tend to drift left. (I know you can find many counter examples.) Kind of like the hierarchy of needs, when you don't need to worry about basic needs or safety, you start to think about society, self esteem, etc.
Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 09:33 am
As you get older you also start to need more social services and assistance with daily activities in general. Maybe there is a subconscious recognition of the need for social services (which are typically associated with more liberal positions).

The most self-sufficient individuals in the population are likely to be young/health males living in the boonies. They have very little direct need for social support systems, other than needing interstate highways and protection from air strikes from foreign governments. The other end of the spectrum is going to be less healthy individuals living in cities. They need the city services to support them and they may need individual assistance. It's likely that the Supremes move closer to that end of the spectrum as they progress in their career. So maybe they are subconsciously protecting their own (and others like them) interests.
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Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 10:16 am
Here is an interesting article on this. It addresses some of the possible issues with the Martin Quinn scoring.

Reply Thu 29 Oct, 2015 03:48 pm
Will you forgive me if I declare that I put economists and lawyers in the same class? I think while they both SOUND very intelligent they dont have the least idea of what the facts are. They change them to fit in with their theories. I dont trust either of them.
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Reply Tue 24 Nov, 2015 06:32 pm
Skepticism is warranted here. What standards are the study's authors using to determine liberalism and conservatism? If someone votes to place restrictions on the Patriot Act, does that indicate a liberal opposition to the empowerment of intelligence agencies viewed as conservative or even fascist? Or does it indicate a traditionally conservative, constitutional constructivist opposition to increasing the powers of centralized government? Is a vote to allow states to legalize marijuana a liberal vote for countercultural values? Or is it a conservative vote for states' rights?

The link provided by parados is well worth reading. Here's the key takeaway:

"The Martin-Quinn method keeps track of only one thing: whether a Justice voted to affirm or reverse in a case. The method does not pay attention to what the case was about; the method itself has nothing to do with politics or ideology (or, for that matter, law). All it knows are things like this: in the first case decided last year, Justices A, B, C, and D voted to affirm and Justices E, F, G, H, and I voted to reverse. In the second case last year, Justice A voted to affirm and all the others voted to reverse. And so forth for every case fed into the model, nothing more. The authors’ findings are all derived from analysis of that data."

This is enough in my mind to invalidate the political inferences (liberal, conservative) made from non-political data using apolitical statistical methods.

All of the sensationalism of the study is tacked on at the end by means of logically unwarranted (or at least unjustified) assumptions, the nature of which are disguised by using graphs and measurements that lend a false air of objectivity while camouflaging weak reasoning with obscure and impenetrable technicalities.

Another point, which I didn't see discussed in parados's link article, is that shifting voting alliances are fundamentally ambiguous: if known conservatives begin voting more often with known liberals, does that indicate that the former are becoming more liberal, or that the latter are becoming more conservative?

The link does, however, point out that if the court moves to the right as new members replace retired ones, while preexisting justices remain ideologically unchanged, they end up being relatively "more liberal" by comparison.

All of this shows how important it is to look behind conclusions and to independently evaluate both data and methodology.
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