Courting the President: How Circuit Court Judges Alter Their Behavior for Promotion to the Supreme Court

Ryan C. Black and Ryan J. Owens

Forthcoming, American Journal of Political Science.


We examine whether circuit court judges sacrifice policy purity for career goals. We compare the behavior of contender judges, those most likely to be elevated to the Supreme Court, during vacancy periods with their behavior out- side vacancy periods. We also examine the behavior of non-contender judges during those same times. The data show that during vacancy periods, contender judges are more likely to vote consistent with the president’s preferences, to rule in favor of the United States, and to write dissenting opinions. Non-contender judges fail to evidence such behavior. These findings provide empirical support for the argument that federal judges adapt their behavior to specific audiences, and provide new avenues for research into judges’ goals and the role of audiences in judicial decision making.

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