The Raveler
May 16, 2017

Unraveling Scalia: His Influence by Geography

We’ve received such an enthusiastic response to #ScaliaWeek that we’re continuing our look back into Justice Antonin Scalia’s career to see what data science can tell us about his rulings. In our last post, we analyzed the federal judges who have cited Scalia the most, as a potential indicator of how his influence has trickled down to other federal courts.

We decided to slice the data a different way this time. Scalia’s originalist interpretation of the Constitution often furthered conservative ideals, and we wanted to see if where he was cited would add to his reputation as a right-leaning stalwart. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, for example, includes Ohio, Tennessee, and Kentucky, and has a reputation for being more conservative, following the arrival of eight judges appointed by President George W. Bush. Would its jurists refer to Scalia’s opinions to support their own rulings? Would Scalia himself cite to circuit courts known for being more conservative?

For this analysis, we developed two heatmaps:

1) The circuit courts that Scalia cited


2) The circuit courts that cited Scalia


Not all circuit courts cited Scalia equally

The circuit court that cited Scalia the most is also the court that Scalia cited most frequently -- the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Dominated by California’s caseload, it is known as the most liberal court, and its judicial philosophy has become at odds with the increasingly conservative Supreme Court.

In that sense, it doesn’t come as a surprise that Scalia cited the Ninth Circuit the most. The Supreme Court reverses more often than it affirms lower court opinions, and the Ninth Circuit usually wins the annual title of “Most Reversed.” Based on those statistics, we might assume that Scalia cited to the Ninth most often to disagree.

But what can we learn from the courts that cited to Scalia? Both the Sixth and Third Circuit Courts ranked high on that list. Are they following Scalia’s majority opinions? For the Sixth, we would assume that judges are either agreeing or even expanding upon Scalia’s majority opinions. However, when it comes to the Third Circuit, we can only begin to guess. What we do know, as we uncovered in our last blog post, is that Judge Mariani in Pennsylvania does cite Scalia more than any other judge, as a percentage of his total citations. One judge’s citations alone cannot account for the whole circuit, however. Could it be that the Third Circuit hears more cases of a certain topic that Scalia wrote frequently about? We’ll report back as we continue with our analysis.

We’re diving into our Judge Analytics platform for a deeper statistical understanding of Scalia’s career and will be sharing our findings in the next few days. Check back in for more data-driven insights on Scalia’s rulings.

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