Friday, September 28, 2007

Digital Archive of the Papers of Harry A. Blackmun

Lee Epstein

The decline in the Supreme Court's plenary docket presents one of the great mysteries of the last decade or so. In his forthcoming book, How Judges Think, Judge Richard A. Posner suggests a possible, and novel, solution. He writes that appellate court judges promoted from trial courts are more likely to affirm "because they are more cognizant of the advantages that the trial judge has over the appellate court in gaining a deep understanding of a case."

Applied to Supreme Court, is it possible that the increase in the number of justices coming from appellate courts has led to the decline? The figure above, plotting the proportion of petitions granted and the proportion of justices from the circuits, is suggestive.

Suggestive but hardly conclusive. The trend depicted in the figure is broadly consistent with many other explanations. Moreover, making a case for the role of judicial biography requires an examination of the individual justices' grant rates.

Enter the Blackmun Digital Archive. With support from the National Science Foundation, Jeff Segal, Harold Spaeth, and I created it to house documents from the Harry A. Blackmun Papers located in the Library of Congress. In the Archive now are preliminary [pool] memoranda and docket sheets from Blackmun's years on the Rehnquist Court (1986-1993 terms).

We hope its contents will interest a wide range of users, from those looking for the votes (and clerk recommendations) in specific cases to those hoping to analyze trends in the Court's decisions and case selection---including, of course, the decline in the docket. In fact, Jeff and I---joined by Andrew Martin and Kevin Quinn---are now systematically organizing the cert votes for that very purpose. (For other uses for the Archive, check out Orin Kerr's post over at The Volokh Conspiracy.)

The Archive's home page is here; to go directly to the Archive, click here.


Thanks for this!

In one important respect, our two accounts diverge. Goldsmith argues that the Cheney-Addington effort to expand presidential power has backfired, 中国呼吸网 肿瘤网

Gotta' agree with Posner on this one. I had the opportunity to clerk for both an appellate bench and a large, busy trial circuit. I will suggest another alternative, one based on my personal experience; that the vast majority of our trial courts do it right. IMHO, knowing that you were apt to be affirmed, we tried damned hard to make sure we got the law correct, thus did not create terrible, policy-driven decisions haunting future litigants.
Of the two, hands-down, trial judges have to be more cognizant of these factors, especially with so many first-impression issues and in the fast-paced world of litigation.

If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.
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