Measuring Justice(s) in Louisiana
An article in today’s New York Times, by Adam Liptak, reports on a forthcoming article in the Tulane Law Review, co-authored by Vernon Palmer (Tulane Law) and John Levendis (Loyola-New Orleans economics). As Liptak reports it, Palmer – a comparative law scholar – had long been struck by the ability of Louisiana Supreme Court justices to hear cases involving individuals who had previously made campaign contributions to them.
Quite reasonably, Palmer wrote a letter to each of the justices, recommending adoption of a rule mandating disqualification in such cases. Receiving no reply, he wrote again. Once more, no response was forthcoming. Some might have given up on the quixotic endeavor at this point. Being at academic, however, Palmer instead decided to recruit Levendis to help him do an empirical study of campaign contributions to the Court’s justices and relevant case outcomes.
Their basic calculations indicated the justices to have voted in favor of their contributors, on average, 65% of the time. (In the case of some justices, the level rose to 80%.) But the really interesting findings came when they used voting patterns in cases without contributors as their control. Liptak is worth quoting:
Justice John L. Weimer, for instance, was slightly pro-defendant in cases where neither side had given him contributions, voting for plaintiffs 47 percent of the time. But in cases where he received money from the defense side (or more money from the defense when both sides gave money), he voted for the plaintiffs only 25 percent of the time. In cases where the money from the plaintiffs’ side dominated, on the other hand, he voted for the plaintiffs 90 percent of the time. That is quite a swing. . . .
Larger contributions had larger effects, the study found. Justice Catherine D. Kimball was 30 percent more likely to vote for a defendant with each additional $1,000 donation. The effect was even more pronounced for Justice Weimer, who was 300 percent more likely to do so.
Not having seen the article itself, it’s hard to evaluate the quality of the authors’ empirics. If they’re even a little right, though, it seems like quite a finding. And perhaps quite telling, about justice and the elected justice.