Thursday, September 01, 2005

Mapping US Supreme Court decisions and their precedents

Scholars have started mapping the precedental links between Supreme Court cases, and it looks kind of interesting. The Economist has the story :
One such map, of the network of links between United States Supreme Court cases, has been devised by Seth Chandler, professor of law at the University of Houston. Mr Chandler obtained some 26,000 opinions issued by the Supreme Court between the early 19th century and the present day. He treated each of these cases as a node and each citation from one case to another as a link. The result was a complicated web resembling a map of cities linked by dozens of airlines.
His results:
Intriguingly, the cases mostly come from an advanced and esoteric subject—the law of federal jurisdiction—that addresses structural features of American government, such as the relationship between the states and the federal government and the relationship between the courts and Congress.
Others are working on similar models, too, and have come up with some results which the critics of the Warren Court will likely be delighted with:
Related work, by James Fowler, a political scientist at the University of California at Davis, and Sangick Jeon, a political-science student at the same place, shows how Supreme Court jurisprudence has developed over time...

For a while, Supreme Court justices liked to cite opinions with many citations in them. By 1950, an average opinion cited about 15 other opinions, and each opinion was itself cited by roughly the same number.

The trend reversed, however, between 1953 and 1969, when the controversial Earl Warren served as Chief Justice of the United States. As that Court embarked on its activist, and mostly liberal, course, there was a precipitous drop in the number of citations it made, which implies that the Warren Court was less respectful, or perhaps just less interested, in precedent.
The whole thing is short and worth a quick read.

Thanks to ArtsJournal for the tip.

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