Predictions of the Next Justice – Team Kagan v. Team Wood v. Team Garland

April 28th, 2010

Who will replace Justice John Paul Stevens? While pundits, savants, and oracles across the SCOTUSphere pontificate and read Article III tea leaves, conducted extensive and detailed polling to predict the next Justice. We have invited our nearly 5,000 members–who represent some of the closest and most ardent Court watchers–to weigh in on the vacancy, rank the candidates on the short list, and give their views on the potential nominees. We are still collecting data. Sign up for free at and voice your opinion. This is the third in a series of posts breaking down this data, as we attempt to add some certainty to the vast amounts of uncertainty emanating from the penumbras of the upcoming vacancy.

This week, we pit Elana Kagan, Diane Wood, and Merick Gerland in a head to head to head confirmation death match. By dividing users across these lines, we can tell whether a nominee is supported by users who feel strongly about that nominee, or if the nominee’s supporters just like the other candidates less. We have divided the predictions into groups based on the top three nominees: Team Kagan, Team Wood, and Team Garland. Although some users placed other nominees as the top pick, we have limited our discussion to the best three potential nominees.

In discussing the opinions of Team Kagan, Team Wood, and Team Garland, we have statistics about those opinions. In the first column we note that Team’s top pick, followed by their second pick, and third pick. We list the maximum and minimum opinions for the nominees (on a scale from -10 to 10) to give general context. We include the average opinion of the group, the standard deviation among the group, and the overall average opinion. The average opinion of the group tells us how the group generally feels about the candidate, while the standard deviation tells us how spread out opinion about that candidate is. Finally, we include the overall opinion to show how the group differs from the total predictions, and to have a better overall context.

Team Kagan

Nominee Kagan (1st Pick) Wood (2nd Pick) Garland (3rd Pick)
Minimum Opinion -10 -10 -10
Maximum Opinion 10 10 10
Average Opinion 4 2.66 1.47
Standard Deviation 5.79 6.45 5.4
Overall Opinion 3.04 2.93 1.89

Our discussion naturally begins with those who picked Kagan. One of the easiest things to notice about the Team Kagan as a group is that they have full range of minimums and maximums for each candidate, which might be due to the fact that they are the largest and most inclusive group. However, it does indicate that predictions are not strongly tied to the opinion of the nominee. Unlike our previous post however, the average opinions do reflect the order of picks, with Kagan having the highest and Garland the lowest. At 4, Kagan is by no means the peacemaker candidate, but it does indicate that she can attract solid support. The standard deviation shows how volatile the candidate is by showing the amount of spread in the opinions. The opinion of Kagan, at 5.79, is well spread out, but less so than Wood at 6.45. This difference hints that Kagan is preferred over Wood as a less divisive nominee, while Garland fails to engender much opinion period. Finally, the difference between the average opinion and overall opinion indicates that while those who picked Kagan are the largest group, Kagan is disfavored enough by other users that there is almost an entire point of difference in the opinions.

The results for Team Garland and Team Wood, after the jump at

Team Garland

Nominee Garland (1st Pick) Kagan (2nd Pick) Wood (3rd Pick)
Minimum Opinion -3 -10 -10
Maximum Opinion 10 10 9
Average Opinion 4.71 1.71 0.59
Standard Deviation 4.48 5.87 6.66
Overall Opinion 1.89 3.04 2.93

Team Garland is the smallest group at about of a quarter of the size of Team Kagan. The minimums and maximums for those who picked Garland are interesting. With a minimum opinion of -3, those who picked Garland as the top nominee generally held positive opinions, while none of them gave Wood a 10. Supporting the above statement that Garland fails to draw strong support, Garland’s average of 4.71 indicates more ratings towards the -3 than the 10. In comparison, the overall group just does not like Kagan or Wood overall, with a respective 1.71 and 0.59 average. The standard deviations indicate that opinions of Garland are clustered towards the lower end, while Wood is once again the divisive candidate. In comparing the average and overall opinions, Garland supporters generally felt strongly about all candidates, liking Garland, but disfavoring Kagan and Wood. Due to their minority status however, Garland falls behind the other potential nominees despite the numbers.

Team Wood

Nominee Wood (1st Pick) Kagan (2nd Pick) Garland (3rd Pick)
Minimum Opinion -10 -10 -10
Maximum Opinion 10 10 10
Average Opinion 5.13 2.38 2.65
Standard Deviation 6.39 5.94 5.7
Overall Opinion 2.93 3.04 1.89

Team Wood is about half the size of Team Kagan and twice the size of Team Garland. Once again, we see that all candidates have a full range of opinion based on the minimums and maximums. Despite the low opinions the other groups held about Wood, those who picked her tend to have higher opinion of their choice than the other groups. This could be due to Wood’s views, which indicate that she would be a strong progressive voice if nominated. Compared to Wood, Kagan and Garland fail to garner a strong positive opinion in this group, although the political reality shows in that Kagan got the second pick while Garland was second most favored. The standard deviation, even among Wood supporters, once again indicates that Wood is a divisive candidate while Garland would be the least divisive. Wood supporters of course had a far more favorable opinion of Wood than the overall opinion of her, but interestingly enough, Kagan had a lower than overall opinion while Garland had a higher than overall opinion. Based on the differences between the averages and overall opinions, it seems that Kagan is the second choice out of political expediency rather than opinion.

Even without accounting for the size of the different groups, it is easy to see that if Kagan is not the nominee for some reason, then Wood would be the next logical choice. Kagan is presented as the top political choice as a “moderate” pick among the slate for the nomination, while Wood is the “progressive” choice, making her less attractive as nominee due to political considerations. Garland, although not objectionable on political grounds fails to engender strong support beyond a devoted minority. Should Kagan fail to be nominated or make it through the nomination, Garland would be the best compromise choice, and possibly make for a less eventful nomination. These predictions should serve as an indicator for the type of nomination hearing the nominee will face.

This post was co-authored by Josh Blackman and Corey Carpenter.