Is Tom Goldstein “the most prescient high court analyst”?

February 20th, 2012

This UPI piece which treats Tom’s post about President Obama’s next Supreme Court pick as the gospel seems to think so.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will step down from the U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 to give President Obama, putatively in his second term, a chance to name a liberal as her successor.

That’s the conclusion of Tom Goldstein, founder and padrone of, one of the premier Supreme Court litigators in active practice — he’s argued 24 cases before the justices — and arguably the most prescient high court analyst.

Goldstein tends to be included on lists: Congressional Quarterly named him one of the 50 most influential people in Washington; Legal Times named him one of the 90 greatest Washington lawyers of the past 30 years and one of the leading Washington appellate lawyers, and the Washingtonian named him one of the 30 best lawyers in Washington.

So any prediction by Goldstein has to be taken very seriously.

In the swashbuckling , devil-may-care style familiar to those who know him, Goldstein admits his prediction is speculation.

I would beg to differ about his predictive-prowess. Last term, FantsySCOTUS went head-to-head with Tom Goldstein for the last 14 cases for the term. We won.

In a previous column, we compared our predictions for the final 14 cases with predictions made by Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSBlog (Tom did not make predictions for two of the 14 cases). While the sample size is rather small (14 cases out of the total 81 cases, about 17% of the cases decided this term) this small experiment allows for an informal comparison between the wisdom of the crowds and the accuracy of experts. At the end of the term, the final score is FantasySCOTUS: 11, SCOTUSBlog: 9 (79% to 64%).

While we in no way doubt Tom’s knowledge and expertise about the Supreme Court’s docket, it is not too surprising that 10,000 members of FantasySCOTUS, on the aggregate, generated more accurate results, than a single expert. What our members lack in credentials they make up for in a wide-range of experience (many top-ranked players aren’t even attorneys), and knowledge on a breadth of topic (many players focus on statistics, political science, and even psychology). On the aggregate, this allows them to produce better, more informed predictions than an individual expert.

Tom’s predictive prowess is better than average, but not prescient. In his post, he lists over 30 names. That’s just about everyone, guaranteeing a pretty good shot that he’ll be right. And you can be sure he will take credit for it, much like he did when he predicted Kagan would be the nomination on February 23, 2010. (FantasySCOTUS called Kagan about two weeks later).

However, as I predicted (ha!), the mainstream media has taken Goldstein’s bait. It’s impressive how he is able to set the stage and agenda. I admire his showmanship immensely. Even if he did place my blog on a black list, and instructed his associates that they are not allowed to link to my site under any circumstances (yes, I have heard this directly from someone who works for SCOTUSBlog).