Media Attention and Deliberation on the Supreme Court
Alex Badas & Billy Justus
Political Research Quarterly, forthcoming
The news media acts as a "watchdog" over political institutions by holding them accountable for their actions through critical commentary. Being that the Supreme Court rarely interacts directly with the public, the news media is the primary mechanism through which individuals become aware of the Supreme Court's actions and decisions. Thus, for the Supreme Court, the news media's role as a "watchdog" takes greater meaning than it does for institutions that often speak directly to the public. Considering this, along with the Supreme Court's use of strategic presentation, we argue that news media attention to particular cases will influence the extent to which the Supreme Court deliberates on argued cases. We find support for our hypothesis in four contexts. First, cases with more news media attention take longer to produce a published opinion. Second, cases with greater media attention are more likely to be reargued. Third, cases with more news media attention produce a higher number of draft opinions before being published. Fourth, cases with more news media attention produce opinions with a greater share of cognitive mechanisms included in them. Our results have implications for the Justice's use of strategic behavior and the potential constraints faced by the Court in its decision-making.
De-prosecution and death: A synthetic control analysis of the impact of de-prosecution on homicides
Criminology & Public Policy, forthcoming
De-prosecution is a policy not to prosecute certain criminal offenses, regardless of whether the crimes were committed. The research question here is whether the application of a de-prosecution policy has an effect on the number of homicides for large cities in the United States. Philadelphia presents a natural experiment to examine this question. During 2010-2014, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office maintained a consistent and robust number of prosecutions and sentencings. During 2015-2019, the office engaged in a systematic policy of de-prosecution for both felony and misdemeanor cases. The city recorded the fewest number of criminal prosecutions in modern history, with a 70% reduction in the number of criminal sentencings. Philadelphia experienced a concurrent and historically large increase in homicides. This article employs a difference-in-differences analysis using a synthetic control method to estimate the effects of de-prosecution on the number of homicides in Philadelphia. The potential donor pool is composed of the prosecutors' offices for the 100 largest cities in the United States over a 10-year period, with a quantitative categorization of the prosecutors' offices used both as a variable and to exclude cities that may have been subject to a similar de-prosecution treatment. The synthetic control model estimates that de-prosecution has been associated with a statistically significant increase of 74.79 homicides per year in Philadelphia during 2015-2019.
A study of pandemic and stigma effects in removal proceedings
Ian Peacock & Emily Ryo
Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, forthcoming
This study examines how a rapid change in social perceptions of a national-origin group triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic influenced immigration judges' decision-making in US removal proceedings. Using originally compiled court data on removal proceedings decided between 2019 and 2020, we applied a difference-in-differences framework to produce three key findings. First, consistent with theory of event stigma, Chinese respondents experienced a significantly higher removal rate during the early pandemic period. Second, consistent with theory of associative stigma, East and Southeast (E/SE) Asian respondents also experienced a significantly higher removal rate during the early pandemic period. Third, the removal rate declined for both Chinese and E/SE respondents during the later pandemic period, but this decline was more gradual and lagged for E/SE Asian than for Chinese respondents. Finally, increases in the number of cases involving Chinese respondents increased the removal rate for E/SE Asian respondents during the early months of the pandemic. The last two findings suggest that associative or indirect stigmatization may be harder to combat than direct stigmatization owing to the implicit nature of bias underlying associative stigma. This study highlights the socially constructed nature of national origin groups, and the importance of both direct and indirect stigmatization in the production of social inequality.
Race, Crime, and the Public's Sentencing Preferences
David Doherty et al.
Public Opinion Quarterly, forthcoming
We report findings from a conjoint experiment where respondents indicated what they viewed as an appropriate sentence for a series of hypothetical individuals convicted of federal crimes. The experiment signaled the race of the defendant by using distinctively "Black" and "white" names, allowing us to assess whether Americans are more punitive toward purportedly Black defendants. We also consider whether signals of the defendant's race condition the effects of the crime and various defendant characteristics. Surprisingly, the direct effect of our signal of defendants' purported race is null. We present evidence that this null finding is a product of offsetting tendencies: respondents who view persistent racial inequalities as the product of both past and ongoing institutional factors prescribed lengthier sentences for white defendants; those who discount these explanations prescribed lengthier sentences for Black defendants. We find only scattered evidence that the signal of defendants' race moderates the effects of other characteristics of the crime and defendant. Our approach and findings not only offer insights into how racial attitudes shape perceptions regarding what constitutes just punishment for crimes in the contemporary United States, but also demonstrate a novel approach to studying this domain and point to an array of promising avenues for future research.
'Would You Prefer Jail or Probation?' Differences in Sanctioning Preferences among White, Black, and Latinx Adults
Eric Wodahl, Leanne Fiftal Alarid & John Bowman
Prison Journal, September 2022, Pages 395-416
Research on perceptions of sanction severity reveals a gap between White and Black respondents in terms of their preferences for incarceration compared to alternative punishments. Little is known, however, about Latinx preferences. Using a sample of jail inmates, we explore differences across White, Black, and Latinx respondents in terms of their preferences for incarceration versus probation, as well as the factors that relate to these preferences. Findings show that White respondents prefer probation far more frequently than Black and Latinx respondents. Additionally, factors which relate to sanctioning preferences for Whites are fundamentally different than those for Black and Latinx adults.
Longer Trips to Court Cause Evictions
David Hoffman & Anton Strezhnev
University of Pennsylvania Working Paper, June 2022
Studying ~200,000 evictions filed against ~300,000 Philadelphians from 2005 through 2021, we focus on the role of transit to court in preventing tenants from asserting their rights. Over the time period, nearly 40% of all tenants were forced to leave their residences because they didn't show up to contest cases against them. An important driver of that result is easy access to the courthouse. Controlling for a variety of potential confounds at the tenant and landlord level, residents of private tenancies with longer mass transit travel time to the courthouse are more likely to default. A one hour increase in estimated travel time increases the probability of default by between 3.9 to 8.6 percentage points across different model specifications. The effect holds within landlords, when controlling for the direct distance to court and even weekend travel time. However, it is absent in public housing evictions, where timing rules are significantly laxer, and during Covid-19, when tenants had the opportunity to be present virtually. We estimate that had all tenants been equally able to get to court in 10 minutes or less, there would have been 4,000 to 9,000 fewer default evictions over the sample period. These results open up a new way to study physical determinants of access to justice, illustrating that where a courthouse is located---and its relationship to urban transit---can affect individual case outcomes. We consequently suggest that increased use of video technology in court may reduce barriers to justice.
Scientific Disciplines and the Admissibility of Expert Evidence in Courts
Timothy O'Brien, Stephen Hawkins & Adam Loesch
Socius: Sociological Research for a Dynamic World, June 2022
The authors examine how people interpret expert claims when they do not share experts' technical understanding. The authors review sociological research on the cultural boundaries of science and expertise, which suggests that scientific disciplines are heuristics nonspecialists use to evaluate experts' credibility. To test this idea, the authors examine judicial decisions about contested expert evidence in U.S. district courts (n = 575). Multinomial logistic regression results show that judges favor evidence from natural scientists compared with social scientists, even after adjusting for other differences among experts, judges, and court cases. Judges also favor evidence from medical and health experts compared with social scientists. These results help illustrate the assumptions held by judges about the credibility of some disciplines relative to others. They also suggest that judges may rely on tacit assumptions about the merits of different areas of science, which may reflect broadly shared cultural beliefs about expertise and credibility.
Letting offenders choose their punishment?
Gilles Grolleau, Murat Mungan & Naoufel Mzoughi
Punishment menus allow offenders to choose the punishment to which they will be subjected from a set of options. We present several behaviorally informed rationales for why punishment menus may serve as effective deterrents, notably by causing people to refrain from entering a calculative mindset; reducing their psychological reactance; causing them to reconsider the reputational impacts of punishment; and reducing suspicions about whether the act is enforced for rent-seeking purposes. We argue that punishment menus can outperform the traditional single punishment if these effects can be harnessed properly. Our observations thus constitute a challenge, based on behavioral arguments, to the conventional view that adding (possibly unexercised) punishment options to an existing punishment scheme is unlikely to increase deterrence or welfare. We explain how heterogeneities among individuals can pose problems to designing effective punishment menus and discuss potential solutions. After explaining how punishment menus, if designed and implemented benevolently, can serve socially desirable goals, we caution against their possible misuse by self-interested governments.
Financial Costs of Judicial Inexperience: Evidence from Corporate Bankruptcies
Benjamin Iverson et al.
Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, forthcoming
Exploiting the random assignment of judges to corporate bankruptcy filings, we estimate financial costs of judicial inexperience. Despite new judges' prior legal experience, formal education, and rigorous hiring process, their public Chapter 11 cases spend 19% more time in bankruptcy, realize 31% higher legal and professional fees, and 21% lower creditor recovery rates. Examining possible mechanisms, we find that new judges take longer to rule on motions and cases assigned to these judges file more plans of reorganization. Conservative estimates suggest that minor policy adjustments could increase creditor recoveries by approximately $16.8 billion for the public firms in our sample.
The Separation-of-Powers Counterrevolution
Nikolas Bowie & Daphna Renan
Yale Law Journal, May 2022, Pages 2020-2125
Most jurists and scholars today take for granted that the U.S. Constitution imposes unwritten but judicially enforceable limits on how Congress and the President may construct their interrelationships by statute. This "juristocratic" understanding of the separation of powers is often regarded as a given or inherent feature of American constitutionalism. But it is not. Instead, it emerged from a revanchist reaction to Reconstruction. As an ascendent white South violently returned to power in Washington, its intellectual supporters depicted a tragic era in which an unprincipled Congress unconstitutionally paralyzed the President in pursuit of an unwise and unjust policy of racial equality. Determined to prevent Reconstruction from reoccurring, historians, political scientists, and a future Supreme Court Justice by the name of William Howard Taft demanded judicial intervention to prevent Congress from ever again weaving obstructions around the President. This Lost Cause dogma became Supreme Court doctrine in Myers v. United States. Authored by Chief Justice Taft, the opinion was the first to condemn legislation for violating an implied legal limit on Congress's power to structure the executive branch. It is today at the heart of an ongoing separation-of-powers counterrevolution. That counterrevolution has obscured, and eclipsed, a more normatively compelling conception of the separation of powers - one that locates in representative institutions the authority to constitute the separation of powers by statute. This "republican" conception accepts as authoritative the decision of the political branches as to whether a bill validly exercises the Necessary and Proper Clause to carry into execution the powers and interrelationships of Congress, the President, and the executive branch. Where the juristocratic separation of powers undermines both the legal legitimacy of the Court and the democratic legitimacy of the political branches, the republican separation of powers sustains an inherently provisional constitutional order - one grounded in deliberation, political compromise, and statecraft.