Ranking State Courts

Choi, Gulati & Posner have posted an amazing new article on SSRN, Which States Have the Best (and Worst) High Courts?

This paper ranks the high courts of the fifty states, based on their performance during the years 1998-2000, along three dimensions: opinion quality (or influence as measured by out-of-state citations), independence (or non-partisanship), and productivity (opinions written). We also discuss ways of aggregating these measures. California and Delaware had the most influential courts; Georgia and Mississippi had the most productive courts; and Rhode Island and New York had the most independent courts. If equal weight is given to each measure, then the top five states were: California, Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana, and Ohio. We compare our approach and results with those of other scholars and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose influential rankings are based on surveys of lawyers at big corporations.

There’s lots of great, nuanced, analysis in the paper, and a particular emphasis on how congruence & dissonance in ranking systems may help readers/consumers/lawyers better evaluate & build institutions. Of particular interest to readers of California’s gay marriage decision will be the overall, summary, analysis from pages 23-25 of the paper:

“No state emerges as a clear winner, but a strong case can be made that California has the best high court. It has the most #1 rankings on the triangle chart, and the most #1-3 rankings, and is tied for the most #1-5 rankings . . . The top contenders are Arkansas, North Dakota, Montana, and Georgia. If one focuses on common law cases . . . then Mississippi, Rhode Island, and Alabama emerge as the top states. The strong performance of southern states is a bit of a surprise.”

Fun stuff. I wonder what would happen if people drilled deeper and analyzed the relative performance (and influence?) of state trial courts. After all, the trial courts are where the action is, even though studying them is a tremendous pain.

(H/T: Legal Theory Blog)

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2 Responses

  1. TJ says:

    Really interesting paper. But I wonder about the “opinion quality” measure. Seems like California and Delaware are logical candidates for the most out-of-state citations regardless of their actual quality. California because it is the largest state, and Delaware because of its corporate law dominance.

  2. Pub Editor says:

    “The strong performance of southern states is a bit of a surprise.”