Monday, July 15, 2013

SCOTUS Voting Patterns 2012-2013

I’ve finally gathered enough data to take an overall look at this past Supreme Court session. The question I’m looking at concerns cohesiveness vs. division on the court. How much agreement overall, and how much ideological division? The data may not answer the specific questions we have about ideology, but it’s an interesting piece of data.
There were 79 cases in the session; five were per curiam, so in the overall count I have eliminated those and dealt with the remaining 74 cases. Of those, 35 are essentially unanimous (some are listed as unanimous; some are unanimous with concurring opinions; some are listed as majority with concurring, but no dissents.) The probability is that those cases are mainly non-political, and just technical issues of law. I may take another look at the data later, removing the unanimous cases. But with those included, there is quite a lot of agreement on the court.
The photo is the draft I printed out after organizing the actual votes. Blue means majority, concurring, and unanimous opinions. Yellow is dissent. Orange is abstaining (recusal of a justice on a particular case). You can see there is a sea of blue.

Last time I did a piece like this (April 2012), it was relatively early in the session, to see if there was possibly any predictive information prior to the Obamacare ruling. The data was small enough not to be unwieldy. While I have the database of all the votes for this year’s session, I haven’t got a way to condense it to be looked at in this blog. So I’m only presenting the sub-database concerning how often each voted with the majority (including concurring opinions, which means agreement with the ruling but for different reasoning), how many dissents. And from that we can also see connection to voting blocks.
The conservative voting bloc is Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Roberts, with sometimes Kennedy. The liberal voting bloc is Kagan, Sotomayor, Breyer, Ginsburg, and sometimes Kennedy. If there was a bloc on a case, that meant there were at least three of the bloc voting together (either with the majority or the dissent). When a bloc was two-two, Kennedy determined whether to consider whether a bloc existed. Note that it is possible on a case for a justice to be either with both blocs or against both blocs.
I don’t know whether we can say what this all means. But there are probably a few observations we can make from this data, so we’ll that in the next post.

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