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Why Speculate, When You Can Look It Up?

Commenter bdog, commenting on one of the posts on the badly done study of the Louisiana Supreme Court, writes:

Why is is it that no one has bothered to remark on the policitcal affiliations of the Judges? Without reading either the article or the rebuttal, I would bet that the accused judges are probably considered 'conservative', if not actual members of the republican party.

My reasoning? Simple logic and statistics: Professors are democrat 10-1. Law students, especially those on the Law Review are probably democrat by 30-1.(And personally, I would also bet money that on most Law Reviews, republicans/conservatives aren't represented at all.) And of course, the lack of attention to detail, like fact checking, faulty statistical analysis (can anyone say global warming), are just part and parcel of what is accepted as scholarship and scientific concensus, as long as it advances the 'correct' agenda.

The editors reviewed the article and it was just too good to check. If I ever need a lawyer, and I have in the past, I'll just make sure that it isn't one from Tulane.

And of course, law professors wouldn't write an article like this about democrat judges. It. Just. Does. Not. Happen.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Well, one can certainly speculate based on generalized assumptions about students' political orientations. Or one can look things up, for instance in Judgepedia (you'd find it quickly just by searching search for, for instance, Pascal Calogero Democrat Republican).

Looking up will reveal that the three justices as to whom the study purported to show influence from contributions -- Pascal Calogero, Catherine Kimball, and John Weimer -- are Democrats. (I've also confirmed this through non-open-source sources. Please note the "purported to show"; my point in these posts is that the study is badly flawed, and does not adequately demonstrate its claims of causation.) Of the remaining four justices, for whom the study didn't purport to show such influence, two were Republicans (Chet Traylor and Jeffrey Victory) and two were Democrats, Bernette Johnson and Jeannette Theriot Knoll.

So a law professor did cowrite an article like this about Democratic judges. It. Just. Did. Happen.

A broader point: It may well be true that as a general matter, more law review editors in the country are Democrats or lean Democratic than are Republicans or lean Republican, and that may in particular be true as to Tulane -- or it might not be; that's all sheer speculation. And it surely is the case that even fair-minded Democrats are more likely to assume the worst about Republicans and cut slack to Democrats, just as even fair-minded Republicans are more likely to assume the worst about Democrats and cut slack to Republicans. That's human nature.

But it's dangerous to speculate from such general tendencies to the facts in any particular case. And it's pretty pointless to do so, when the actual facts are pretty easily available.

Daniel Chapman (mail):
Ouch.
9.23.2008 1:49pm
LTEC (mail) (www):
I think bdog did the right thing. He could have silently speculated on left-wing bias, then done the research, and then -- depending on how the research came out -- either proclaim the existence of bias or drop the matter altogether. In fact, a lot of research is done this way: keep looking for stuff that confirms your beliefs, ignore everything that doesn't, publish everything that does.

Rather, the right thing to do is to announce in advance the research you would like to do (or have done; it's a shame that the people who design experiments are the same people who execute them), perhaps with a guess as to outcome. Then, and only then, is the research done and the result announced.
9.23.2008 1:52pm
hawkins:

So a law professor did cowrite an article like this about Democratic judges. It. Just. Did. Happen.


The funniest thing I've ever read on VC.
9.23.2008 2:28pm
CJColucci:
If people followed your advice, the comment threads would be a lot shorter.
9.23.2008 2:29pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
CJColucci: Bug, or feature?
9.23.2008 2:40pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I did wonder how they expected the study's results to yield anything of value (apart from publicity). Attorney's interests and judges to whom they donate show correlation. Does that mean judge stack the result in favor of their contributors or, more likely, attorneys who contribute do so to judges whose results they favor? We don't have campaigns or contributions here, but if we did, it'd be sure that a few years ago the plaintiffs' bar would have backed Stan Feldman, and the defense bar judge Martone, on the Supreme Court, without any hope of influencing either, but simply because their attitudes were well known.
9.23.2008 2:42pm
Chris 24601 (mail) (www):
Law review boards more ideologically skewed than faculties? Not at Yale.
9.23.2008 2:47pm
Angus:
I think the comment was an example of the reflexive anti-intellectualism found in areas of the right. Academics=liberals, therefore all academic publications are liberal trash out to distort reality.

While professors (law and otherwise) do fall heavily to the left of the political spectrum, there is quite a healthy debate about scholarship and research, and a real concern in striving for accuracy. After all, it was legal experts and academics who criticized the original article and helped expose its flaws.
9.23.2008 2:51pm
xx:
"Law students, especially those on the Law Review are probably democrat by 30-1."

Is there any reason to believe that law reviews have a greater percentage of democrats than the law school at large? At least at my law school, membership was decided by blind grading of a case note. I wouldn't think there's much relationship between ideology and ability to write a case note.
9.23.2008 2:54pm
Sarcastro (www):
I always suspected Bluebook citation had a liberal bias!
9.23.2008 3:01pm
KevinM:
Not worth (I typed "wroth" - Freudian slip?) getting too worked up about, but:
The adjective for referring to the political party is (capital D) "Democratic" - not "democrat." The latter is a juvenile practice instituted by Republicans in (if memory serves) the late '80s or early '90s (think Gingrich, Dole). Evidently the ending "crat" was thought to sound less appealing, and referring to policies as "democratic" sounded too much like praise. But it's stupid -- an example of the "freedom fries" mentality -- and we shouldn't indulge it.
9.23.2008 3:19pm
CJColucci:
CJColucci: Bug, or feature?

I should be asking you.
9.23.2008 4:06pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Speculation. Is. More. Fun.

Nick
9.23.2008 4:23pm
Adam J:
Ironic, first the authors wrongly criticize judges for bias based upon flawed data, then a commenter wrongly criticizes the authors for bias based on flawed data. I think there's a lesson to be learned here... Of course, in stead of learning that lesson maybe we should wildly speculate that the authors were in fact conservatives attempting to do a hit job on some nice liberal judges.
9.23.2008 4:37pm
albert:
I'd add, just for the heck of it, that Calogero is the most liberal of the justices- sort of 60s/70s style southern liberal. Kimball and Weimer are more in the nature of swing votes. So, I'd hope bdog put no money behind his "bet."

I would add my $0.02, that much of the selling of themselves takes place before the elections, when they start raising money and running commercials. To market yourself to the business groups, you let it be known you'll vote their way; to market yourself to plaintiff's counsel, you do the same. You call on the people with connections to those groups to help you raise money. Two good examples of that are Traylor and Victory, who won with strong support from the business lobby, and vote 'the Texas way' in basically every case. That, to your mind, may be more or less distasteful than shifting in the wind once one is already an incumbent-- but it makes more sense as a practical matter, since once you are elected it's a heckuva lot harder to dislodge you, and so you are unlikely to desperately alter your style from case to case: that could win you as many enemies as friends, and confuse everyone.

Of course, it's also interesting to note that Traylor and Knoll both defeated incumbents considered more liberal; and that while those elections were coming up, the two incumbents facing contested elections were the only dissenters in a majority decision which reversed a death penalty (State v. James E. Divers).
9.23.2008 5:17pm
LM (mail):
Everything "bdog" said was right despite EV's so-called "facts." And if he wasn't it's only because 29 out of 30 liberals make the same mistake he did.
9.23.2008 6:37pm
OrinKerr:

CJColucci:
If people followed your advice, the comment threads would be a lot shorter.
9.23.2008 1:29pm
(link) Eugene Volokh (www):
CJColucci: Bug, or feature?
Hilarious. It really is funny how many Internet comments are made by people who really want to give a good zinger but really don't have the goods to justify it. Human nature, I suppose.
9.23.2008 7:45pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
Wow, a VC commentator talking out of his ass. I'll alert the media.
9.24.2008 1:00am
Jaypher (mail):
I earned by degree at Tulane Law School 10+ years ago. Perhaps the demographics have changed dramatically, but I'd be flabbergasted if liberals outnumbered conservatives on the law review, 30-1. Or even at all. My TLS class was quite conservative.
9.24.2008 1:10am
John M. Perkins (mail):
It. Just. Did. Happen.

All of the periods above are in italics.
Italics lean to the right.
Only law reviewers can tell if a period is in italics.
Therefore law reviewers are biased to the right.
9.24.2008 1:04pm
David Warner:
Angus,

"I think the comment was an example of the reflexive anti-intellectualism found in areas of the right. Academics=liberals, therefore all academic publications are liberal trash out to distort reality"

There's an anti-intellectualism and there's also an anti-empty-credentialism/scholasticism/ivory-towerism. The two somewhat overlap, but you'll find quite a few intellectuals, academic and otherwise, in the latter camp. The occasional swim in the sea of the people can be edifying.
9.25.2008 2:02am