USA Today Profiles FantasySCOTUS Prediction Market. We predicted Kagan. Will it be Gorsuch?

January 26th, 2017

Since the beginning of December, Judge Gorsuch has been firmly perched atop the short-list on the FantasyJustice prediction market from LexPredict. I recently spoke with Dick Wolf at USA Today, who profiled our market.

WASHINGTON — Before the last time a Supreme Court seat was filled, court watchers and legal beavers who ventured on to the “FantasySCOTUS” website correctly predicted it would be Elena Kagan.

If the survey proves prescient again, Colorado’s Neil Gorsuch could be President Trump’s guy.

Gorsuch, 49, who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, has led a field of 22 potential nominees listed on the site since shortly after Trump’s election. At last count, he had 649 votes to 512 for Alabama’s more controversial William Pryor, the early favorite among both conservatives and cognoscenti.

The Supreme Court nerds who frequent FantasySCOTUS aren’t as impressed with the other two judges said to be among Trump’s finalists. Michigan’s Raymond Kethledge is in 8th place with 160 votes; Pennsylvania’s Thomas Hardiman is 10th with 91.

“I was shocked that Judge Gorsuch shot up so quickly at the outset,” says Josh Blackman, a South Texas College of Law professor who founded the online prediction market in 2009. “I think this is one case where the ‘wisdom of the crowds’ actually identified the leading candidate long before everyone else.”

FantasySCOTUS allows attorneys, law students and others to predict how justices will vote on cases pending before the high court, with winners and prizes announced at the end of each term. The chance to guess who will fill a vacancy has only come around once since the site was created.

That was in 2010, when President Obama chose Kagan, then the U.S. solicitor general and a former Harvard Law School dean, to replace the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens. Voters on the site were way ahead of Obama, predicting early that Kagan would outpace other potential nominees — including federal appeals court Judge Merrick Garland, who got the nod after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death last year but was blocked by Senate Republicans.

“These are not random people on the street,” Blackman, 32, says of the thousands who participate on FantasySCOTUS. “They’re people who follow this closely.”

That doesn’t mean the voting is completely reliable. Some participants tried to game the system by voting multiple times, until a filter was used to prevent more than one vote per IP address. “They have an interest in their guy winning,” Blackman says.

Trump’s favorites are thought to be federal appeals court judges — including, at least until recently, Wisconsin’s Diane Sykes, who is fifth in FantasySCOTUS voting. But ahead of her is Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras, a 42-year-old long shot, with more than 400 votes. And Sen. Ted Cruz is a credible seventh with 170 votes — despite not being on Trump’s list at all.