Yesterday's end-of-Term flurry of Supreme Court opinions prompted annual public attention to the Court and its work. As people discuss whether Justice Roberts sought to avoid politics by siding with the Court's liberal wing or, instead, yielded to political pressure to change his vote in the ACA case, an interesting paper by Ross Stolzenberg (Chicago--Sociology) and Jim Lindgren (Northwestern), Retirement and Death in Office of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, warrants attention.
As the paper's abstract explains, the paper's "[M]odels build on prior multistate labor force status studies, and data permit an unusually clear distinction between voluntary and "induced" retirement. Using data on every justice from 1789 through 2006, with robust, cluster-corrected, discrete-time, censored, event-history methods, we (1) estimate retirement effects of pension eligibility, age, health, and tenure on the timing of justices' retirements and deaths in office, (2) resolve decades of debate over the politicized departure hypothesis that justices tend to alter the timing of their retirements for the political benefit or detriment of the incumbent president, (3) reconsider the nature of rationality in retirement decisions, and (4) consider the relevance of organizational conditions as well as personal circumstances to retirement decisions."
The paper finds that Supreme Court justices do tend to act politically in one respect: The Justices tend to retire or take senior status strategically to favor the party of the president who appointed them.