Do Justices vote according to the ideologies of the President that appointed them? A new article in the Missouri Law Review seeks to answer this question: Mavericks, Moderates, or Drifters? Supreme Court Voting Alignments, 1838-2009. The answer, is not really. “We find no evidence that divided government at the time of appointment increased the rate of appointees who voted across party lines.”
Here is the abstract:
We introduce a new dataset recording the vote of every Justice in 18,812 Supreme Court cases decided between 1838 and 1949. When combined with existing datasets, this new data allows us to examine votes in all cases through 2009 and address previously unanswerable questions about the President’s ability to appoint Supreme Court Justices of similar ideology. The recent trend toward highly polarized voting on the Court makes these questions all the more pressing. Surprisingly, history shows that the President’s odds of appointing a Justice who sides with appointees of his party have been no better than a coin flip. We find no evidence that divided government at the time of appointment increased the rate of appointees who voted across party lines. These findings cast doubt on the hypothesis that appointments bring the Court in line with majoritarian views. Indeed, many failed appointments occurred when a majority of the Senate and the President were of the same party. These mavericks are not lone outliers, but part of a larger pattern of appointees whose votes departed or drifted away from executive expectations at remarkable frequency throughout our nation’s history.