Policy preferences, presidential appointments, and long-term influence in the Federal Courts of Appeals
Collins, Todd A.
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The United States Courts of Appeals decides thousands of cases each year and is rarely overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court. As these judges possess life tenure, appointments provide presidential administrations with a significant opportunity to influence, at least indirectly, public policy for decades after the president leaves the White House. This dissertation examines this possible presidential influence in four ways. First, in examining appointee tenure, this dissertation finds that those administrations that specifically consider the age of the appointee are generally successful in selecting judges that serve for longer periods than those administrations that apply an age-neutral approach. Second, in examining the abilities of presidents to influence the composition of the courts’ personnel, presidents have been very successful in creating or strengthening their party’s majority presence on the bench. Five out of seven administrations that had the opportunity to shift the partisan majority of judges on the circuits were able to do so. In the individual circuits, presidents create a new majority for their party in about two circuits per four-year term. Presidents are also able to create circuits with a majority of their own nominees at the rate of about two circuits per four-year term. A presidential-cohort majority will generally be maintained for about six years after the president leaves office. Third, using logistic regression, this dissertation finds that appointees behave in ideologically consistent ways with the appointing president’s policy preferences, particularly in the first decade of their careers. This means that the more liberal the appointing president’s preferences are, the more likely their judicial appointees will support liberal case outcomes, at least early on in the judges’ careers. Lastly, this dissertation examines voting records of the Carter Administration’s appointments and finds that the Carter appointees are among the most consistent in their voting behaviors in civil rights cases overtime. These findings suggest presidents have a significant opportunity to shape the courts and the public policy that stems from those courts. Depending on many factors outside of the president’s control, an administration can expect to influence the circuit courts for about a decade after they leave office.