For political scientists who study courts and law, these are exciting times. Some of the developments are obvious to readers of the ELS blog—but perhaps none more so than the growing collaboration between legal academics and political scientists.
Political scientists and law professors have always talked—talked passed each other, that is. When I first started presenting papers at law schools some ten years ago (or at least before Bush v. Gore), participants thought I was from Mars, and I thought them equally as alien. As you might expect they questioned my methods; I was prepared for that. For what I wasn't prepared: questions about the primitives of my Ph.D. education ("What do you mean judges want to etch their policy preferences into law? That's crazy.").
Times have changed. Just two weeks ago I attended a joint law-political science workshop at Emory University. Not one law professor contended that political considerations are irrelevant to judging; and each and every political scientist owned up to the fact that we omit law from decision-making analyses at our own peril. The lack of controversy over this (entirely overdrawn, though seemingly age-old) debate is more than a détente; it is indicative of a convergence between sectors of the legal academy and political science departments on issues of central and mutual concern. More importantly, insights drawn from the two disciplines have begun to yield concrete results in the form of important and innovative papers. E.g., Tracey George/Michael Solimine on certiorari; Frank Cross/Stefanie Lindquist on precedent; Anna Harvey/Barry Friedman on the separation-of-powers system; Tonja Jacobi/Vanessa Baird on coalitions; Emerson Tiller/Max Schanzenbach and Michael Heise/Gregory Sisk/Andrew Morriss on the sentencing guidelines.
These are just a few of the many projects, just the beginning. No doubt, even more discoveries—the Holy Grail of all disciplines—will follow.
Other developments are more empirical in nature, with some so central to our project that they deserve rehearsal here. Surely one is a growing awareness of the importance of replication archives. So many have written on topic this that I need not bore readers here. What bears mention are the new benchmarks established by members of our field. I think here of The Supreme Court in the American Legal System (SCALES), by Jeff Segal, Harold Spaeth, and Sara Benesh. While some may take issue with their unabashed allegiance to a particular take on judging, no one can question the authors' commitment to good social science. Among SCALES's many notable features is a web archive that houses the data sets deployed to produce each and every table and figure. This is a model worth following.
Along similar lines come the admirable efforts of two teams—Micheal Giles/Virginia Hettinger/Todd Peppers and Andrew Martin/Kevin Quinn. Both have advanced our research in two ways. First, they have developed (reliable, valid, and now state-of-the art) measures of judicial preferences—in other words, measures requisite to many quantitative investigations of judging. Second, despite the enormous effort invested in generating the measures, both teams have made the fruits of their labor publicly available.
Owing to their unfailing generosity—and as judged by the number of papers relying and building on their work—many readers are undoubtedly familiar with the GHP and MQ measures. In my next post, I'll take up methodological advancements that have had somewhat less play in the legal literature but are equally promising.