At the recent Networks in Political Science Conference (Harvard 2009), Ramiro Berardo from Arizona presented a paper entitled Networking Networkers: An Exploration of the Patterns of Collaboration among Attendees to the First Harvard Political Networks Conference. The above visual displays the patterns of collaboration among the growing networks community within Political Science. Major scholars in the field including James Fowler, John Scholz, David Lazar and Scott McClurg are displayed. In the northeast corner of the graph you can observe yours truly, Daniel Katz. At the rate he is going, it will not be long until there is a large and central Bommarito node on this graph.
Agenda Control and Careful Inferences
What are the class of potential inferences one should draw when the Chief Justice behaves in a manner which would appear at odds with our prior understandings of his jurisprudence? As I have argued in my previous article Institutional Rules, Strategic Behavior and the Legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Setting the Record Straight on Dickerson v. United States, there is significant reason to be careful about the class of inferences one draws under conditions similar to those accompanying yesterday’s decision in NAMUNDO v. Holder.
A significant strain of the literature in political science is devoted to studying the power of agenda control. The primary power of Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court is the power of opinion assignment. This includes the right of the Chief to assign to himself the task of opinion writing. Of course, this authority is qualifed as it only applies when he finds himself in the majority coalition. If he finds himself outside of the majority, the Senior Associate Justice in the majority is permitted to exercise this important authority.
The opinion assignment norm provides a significant incentive for the Chief Justice to behave “strategically.” Specifically, in instances where the majority of the court is unwilling to support his preferred outcome, the Chief still has an incentive to join the majority in order to do “damage control.” For example, he can attempt to author a watered-down opinion or an opinion which leaves the major substantive issues for another day.
The Ghost of Dickerson v. United States
Consider as an illustrative example, Justice Rehnquist’s behavior in the 2000 case, Dickerson v. United States. In Dickerson, the Supreme Court was called to consider the ultimate constitutionality of its landmark decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Prior to the Court’s decision, even Miranda’s strongest supporters had expressed significant concern regarding its continued viability. As I sat in the audience on the day of the Dickerson decision, this concern was only heightened when Justice Rehnquist indicated he would deliver the court’s majority opinion.
Chief Justice Rehnquist prior Miranda related jurisprudence indicated a significant hostility to the Court landmark 1966 ruling. In fact, in every decision prior to Miranda he either voted to limit or undercut the Court’s Miranda doctrine. In 57 out of 57 prior cases, the Miranda doctrine had no friend in William Rehnquist. Between his decision in Dickerson and his death, the Rehnquist-led Court considered 5 major Miranda-related cases. In each of these cases, the Chief resumed exactly where he left off prior to Dickerson. He consistently voted to undercut the holding and virtually ignored his own Dickerson opinion.
Chief Justice Rehnquist’s former law clerk, Ted Cruz, writing about the Dickerson decision in a eulogy in the Harvard Law Review, essentially acknowledged the strategic nature of the decision “it was the best that could be gotten from the current members of the Court.” From a doctrinal perspective, his decision was fairly opaque. For example, in responding to questions regarding Dickerson’s logical underpinning Ted Cruz stated, “do not ask why, and please, never, ever, ever cite this opinion for any reason.”
The Strategic Decision in NAMUNDO v. Holder?
Nearly four years after the death of Chief Justice Rehnquist, another socially important decision would be surprisingly authored by a Chief Justice who initially appeared hostile to the question at issue. This time it was Chief Justice John Roberts, a jurist initially socialized in the ways of the high court in the early 1980’s chambers of then Justice William Rehnquist.
In yesterday’s decision in NAMUNDO v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts authored an 8-1 decision. Leading election law scholars including Professor Rick Hasen have initially described it as “an interpretation of the Act virtually no lawyer thought was plausible.” The lesson from Dickerson and other such cases is strategic behavior on the part of the Chief is always possible. Once it is apparent he does not have the requisite votes to reach his desired policy outcome–what is a strategic Chief Justice to do? Do damage control, limit the core holding or as Professor Gerken has characterized yesterday’s ruling, “punt.”
In our paper Law as a Seamless Web, we offer a first-order method to generate case-to-case and opinionunit-to-opinionunit semantic networks. As constructed in the figure above, nodes represent cases decided between 1791-1865 while edges are drawn when two cases possess a certain threshold of semantic similarity. Except for the definition of edges, the process of constructing the semantic graph is identical to that of the citation graph we offered in the prior post. While computer science/computational linguistics offers a variety of possible semantic similarity measures, we choose to employ a commonly used measure. Here a description from the paper:
“Semantic similarity measures are the focus of significant work in computational linguistics. Given the scope of the dataset, we have chosen a first-order method for calculating similarity. After lemmatizing the text of the case with WordNet, we store the nouns with the top N frequencies for each case or opinion unit. We define the similarity between two cases or opinion units A and B as the percentage of words that are shared between the top words of A and top words of B.
An edge exists between A and B in the set of edges if σ (A,B) exceeds some threshold. This threshold is the minimum similarity necessary for the graph to represent the presence of a semantic connection.”
As this a technical paper, it is slanted toward demonstrating proof of methodological concept rather than covering significant substantive ground. With that said, we do offer a hint of our broader substantive goal of detecting the spread of legal concepts between various topical domains. Specifically, with respect to enriching positive political theory, we believe union, intersect and compliment of the semantic and citation networks are really important. More on this point is forthcoming in a subsequent post…
Several months ago, I put together this syllabus for use in a future seminar course Law as a Complex System. This contains far more content than would be practical for the typical 2 credit seminar. However, I have decided to repost this because it could also serve as a reading list for anyone who is interested in learning more about the methodological tradition from which must of our scholarship is drawn. If you see any law related scholarship you believe should be included please feel free to email me.
We have recently posted Law as a Seamless Web? Comparison of Various Network Representations of the United States Supreme Court Corpus (1791-2005) to the SSRN. Given this is the first of several posts about the paper, I will speak broadly and leave details for a subsequent post. From the abstract “As research of judicial citation and semantic networks transitions from a strict focus on the structural characteristics of these networks to the evolutionary dynamics behind their growth, it becomes even more important to develop theoretically coherent and empirically grounded ideas about the nature of edges and nodes. In this paper, we move in this direction on several fronts …. Specifically, nodes represent whole cases or individual ‘opinion units’ within cases. Edges represent either citations or semantic connections.” The table below outlines several possible network representations for the USSC corpus.
The goal of the paper is to do some technical and conceptual work. It is a small slice of broader project with James Fowler (UCSD) and James Spriggs (WashU). We recently presented findings from the primary project at the Networks in Political Science Conference. The main project is entitled The Development of Community Structure in the Supreme Court’s Network of Citations and we hope to have a version of this paper on the SSRN soon. In the meantime, we plan additional discussion of Law as a Seamless Web in the days to come.
We genuinely enjoyed our trip to Boston for the Networks in Political Science 2009 Conference at Harvard. There were many highlights but given the timely nature of their work we wanted to highlight the presentation by John Kelly & Bruce Etling entitled Mapping Culture, Politics, and Religion in the Arabic Blogosphere. This is a followup to last year’s presentation, Mapping Iran’s Online Public: Politics and Culture in the Persian Blogosphere. As usual, the folks at the Berkman Center are doing great work. Check out today’s New York Times featuring an article entitled Iranian Blogosphere Tests Government’s Limits.
It was a long trip but we are looking forward to an exciting day of presentations at tomorrow’s Harvard Political Networks Conference. Check out the program! We hope to see you there.
Live from Barcelona, we are on the road at the International Association for Artificial Intelligence and Law. Henry Prakken has just delivered the keynote address and we will soon be giving our presentation. The conference is interesting as it embraces a wide range of topics and intellectual traditions. For example, there is a significant emphasis on ontological reasoning, computational models of argumentation and the use of XML schemas. In addition, there are a number of folks using graph theoretic techniques and applying them to the development of the law. It has been a nice few days and we have enjoyed our time here. Tomorrow, the trip continues….
We just finished a few very interesting days at Colorado Law School. Given the intersect of Computer Program and Law is a fairly narrow set, it was great to spend sometime time at CU Law School because its faculty features two scholars with a significant programming background — Paul Ohm and Harry Surden.
In addition to discussing CLS, we participated in a workshop on New Institutional Economics (NIE) and Law. I found this workshop very interesting as outside of my work in Computational Legal Studies, I have authored scholarship at the crossroads of New Institutionalism and Constitutional Political Economy. For example, I have this article and this work in progress. My work follows the tradition of the Bloomington School of NIE. In two weeks, I will be presenting work in progress at ISNIE in Berkeley.
Following the Colorado NIE Workship, we participated in the Silicon Flatirons Government 3.0 roundtable. I do not want to preempt the forthcoming white paper but I will say that it was a very worthwhile discussion. It solidified my views on some topics and changed my mind on some others. So, the road show continues… AI & Law in Barcelona starts tomorrow… so light blogging for the next week. But as I like to say… more to come…
Here is a cool visual for the Martin-Quinn Scores. For those of you not familiar, the Martin-Quinn paper and “MQ Scores” represented a significant breakthrough in the field of judicial politics. On that note, Stephen Jessee & Alexander Tahk have done a nice job both bringing their data up to date and extending their work. For those interested, click on the visual above and check out all of the relevant links contained within this post.
On this tough day here in Michigan … here is the visualization from the Guardian. Bracketing poor performance in the domestic market, there are some bright spots here in the company’s worldwide sales.
Information Aesthetics is now highlighting Subsidyscope — a project designed to track how various institutions receive federal monies. Of particular interest is their visualization of disbursements under the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). Sponsored by the PEW Charitable Trust, the site also contains .csv files for most of the underlying data.