Ulric B. and Evelyn L. Bray Social Sciences Seminar
Abstract: We estimate a model of sequential voting in the Supreme Court to quantify the extent to which justices learn from their peers when voting on the merits of cases the Court reviews. In the model, justices make decisions under incomplete information and incorporate their preference biases, public and private information, as well the choices of previous justices in the voting sequence. Our data comes from conference votes covering the period 1948-1993, in which votes were cast behind closed doors in order of seniority. We provide evidence that justices systematically incorporate the votes of their senior colleagues when voting in conference. We find that the median justice in the Court is willing to change her initial leanings in approximately $32 \%$ of cases after incorporating the voting history. We assess the effect of sequential voting by seniority on the Court's probability of mistakes, and compare it to alternative voting mechanisms such as simultaneous and anti-seniority voting.
Joint work with Ben Johnson (Penn State Law School)