Thursday, January 7, 2010

Supreme Court Database

Lee Epstein
's presentation Picture 3 this morning on the panel "American Constitutional Law and the New Supreme Court" at the AALS Annual Meeting in New Orleans highlighted the Supreme Court Database, now available online.  The database has an excellent tutorial which enhances the goal of accessibility (especially for those of us who may not have been stellar in that long-ago statistics course).

According to its own description, the database "contains over two hundred pieces of information about each case decided by the Court between the 1953 and 2008 terms. Examples include the identity of the court whose decision the Supreme Court reviewed, the parties to the suit, the legal provisions considered in the case, and the votes of the Justices."

During her presentation, Northwestern University School of Law Professor Lee Epstein used the database to empirically test some oft-voiced propositions, such as Justice Kennedy being a judicial supremacist or Justice Alito's replacement of Justice O'Connor being a negative consequence for criminal defendants.  By doing several different types of data analysis, Epstein was able to provide the empirical interpretation of the propositions.

While it certainly does not substitute for a close reading of opinions (and of course, is not intended to do so), the Supreme Court Database is a great addition to scholarship and teaching.  And much easier to tailor to one's own interests than the (still essential) Supreme Court Compendium and much easier to use than the previous software.


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