U.S. Supreme Court
Study Finds Supreme Court Clerks Influence Justices’ Votes
Posted Dec 9, 2008 7:28 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss
U.S. Supreme Court justices are swayed by their law clerks, tending to vote more liberally or conservatively as more clerks of like ilk join their chambers, according to a new study.
The authors, political science professors Todd Peppers and Christopher Zorn, collected information on political party affiliations from more than 500 Supreme Court law clerks, the New York Times reports. Using standard measures of judicial ideology, the authors found that the presence of additional Democratic clerks in a justice’s chambers made a liberal vote more likely, while the presence of more Republican clerks made a conservative vote more likely.
“Over and above the influence of the justices’ own policy preferences,” the authors wrote, “their clerks’ policy preferences have an independent effect on their votes.”
The study was published in the DePaul Law Review (PDF). The article acknowledges that justices tend to hire like-minded clerks, but says “clerks’ ideological predilections exert an additional, and not insubstantial, influence on the justices’ decisions on the merits.”