U.S. Supreme Court

How 'loyalty effect' plays out among Supreme Court justices


Supreme Court justices vote favorably for their appointing president about 65 percent of the time, providing evidence of the “loyalty effect,” according to a study by two legal scholars.

The study found that justices generally make more decisions favorable to their appointing president than they do to subsequent presidents, report the Washington Post and Above the Law. The study is by Washington University professor Lee Epstein and University of Chicago law professor Eric Posner.

This “loyalty effect” is driven by Democratic appointees, who vote more often for their appointing president than for subsequent presidents who are from the same party, the study found. Republican appointees were about as likely to vote favorably to subsequent Republican presidents. Posner and Epstein are unsure of the reason for the difference.

One possibility “is that the parties look for different things in Supreme Court justices,” they write.

“Perhaps, Republican presidents choose Republican justices for their ideological commitments, whereas Democratic presidents choose Democratic justices with a range of other considerations in mind—including gender and racial diversity, patronage, and the like,” the study says. “Republican justices may feel gratitude to the appointing president, but they do not allow it to influence their votes because of the importance that they attach to their ideological goals. Democrats, with weaker ideological commitments, are more likely to be influenced by loyalty.”

The study looked at voting by Supreme Court justices from 1937 to 2014 in cases in which the president, a federal agency or an executive branch official was a party.

Updated at 4:28 p.m. to correct an instance of “appointees”.


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