Applying My Measure of Judicial Activism

In my previous post, I finally got around to explaining my measure of judicial activism. In this post, I will give some of the results based upon my preliminary data.

One of the most remarkable things I have found so far is that, although each of the circuits has a relatively consistent reversal rate, the activism scores vary by significant margins. The chart below shows the reversal rates and activism differentials for each of the five circuits that I have examined:


The activism scores are negative numbers with the higher numbers indicating a higher degree of activism. Thus, the 3rd Circuit is the most activist and the 4th Circuit is, by far, the least activist.

Of course, one thing that is always interesting to look at is which President’s appointees are the most activist. Here are the results I have so far:


This chart should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Although in some senses, I already have a large amount of data, in others I have very limited sample sizes. When I start analyzing data that uses the judge as a unit of measure, I only have 52 judges with adequate sample sizes. So, there are few representatives for some presidents. That is also why I am not including any regression analysis in these posts. I include this chart simply to show one of variables that I will explore in regards to activism. Other examples of variables I will examine include background experience (district court, private practice, prosecutor, law professor, etc.), conditions at the time of the appointment (election year, unified government, etc.), and other assorted factors (law school attended, activism in particular areas of law, ABA ratings, etc.).

As this project is still ongoing, I welcome any comments and/or suggestions. In my next, and probably last, post, I will give some information about some high profile judges including Judge Sotomayor.

Update: Based upon popular demand, I have changed the second graph to a bar chart.

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5 Responses

  1. Peter says:

    Corey, this is a very interesting project and I will look forward to reading more about your findings. a brief comment about graph design: the line graph, with its (at least implicit) suggestion that the lines themselves are tracking something, seems a poor way of representing what are in fact separate data points. Ihere isn’t any data to be captured in the space *between* Ford and Carter, etc. A bar graph (or just the data points, unconnected by a line) would make your point while avoiding this wrong implication. for more, see Edward Tufte’s work on the visual display of information.

  2. Corey Yung says:

    Hi Peter,

    Thanks for the comment. I actually originally had both graphs as bars instead of lines. Because I wanted to also have the reversal rates on the same graph, I found Excel’s bar chart to be very confusing with one bar in the negative numbers. Since I’m not used to Excel’s graph options, I didn’t know how to improve the default settings and just opted for line graphs instead. I definitely plan to use bar graphs (or something else) in my final paper.


  3. Matthew Sag says:

    Interesting stuff. What does the line connecting each president represent? It does not really make much sense to me to graph your results this way. Presidents are individuals, not part of a continuum.

  4. Corey Yung says:

    Hi Matt,

    The lines owe only to the fact that I am not proficient with Excel’s graphing options and have trouble making the bar chart look right with negative numbers. Still, by popular demand, I have replaced the second graph with a bar chart. Truthfully, the first graph should be a bar chart too since it is not a continuum.