The Development of Structure in the Citation Network of the United States Supreme Court




This is one of our all time best efforts from a scientific perspective (and it is now 7 years old).  We did a rehash of it in our recent paper in the March 31, 2017 edition of Science magazine.

What are some of the key takeaway points?

(1) The Supreme Court’s increasing reliance upon its own decisions over the 1800-1830 window.

(2) The important role of maritime/admiralty law in the early years of the Supreme Court’s citation network. At least with respect to the Supreme Court’s citation network, these maritime decisions are the root of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence.

(3) The increasing centrality of decisions such as Marbury v. Madison, Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee to the overall network.

The Development of Structure in the SCOTUS Citation Network

The visualization offered above is the largest weakly connected component of the citation network of the United States Supreme Court (1800-1829). Each time slice visualizes the aggregate network as of the year in question.

In our paper entitled Distance Measures for Dynamic Citation Networks, we offer some thoughts on the early SCOTUS citation network. In reviewing the visual above note ….“[T]he Court’s early citation practices indicate a general absence of references to its own prior decisions. While the court did invoke well-established legal concepts, those concepts were often originally developed in alternative domains or jurisdictions. At some level, the lack of self-reference and corresponding reliance upon external sources is not terribly surprising. Namely, there often did not exist a set of established Supreme Court precedents for the class of disputes which reached the high court. Thus, it was necessary for the jurisprudence of the United States Supreme Court, seen through the prism of its case-to-case citation network, to transition through a loading phase. During this loading phase, the largest weakly connected component of the graph generally lacked any meaningful clustering. However, this sparsely connected graph would soon give way, and by the early 1820’s, the largest weakly connected component displayed detectable structure.”

We also explore this network in our 2010 paper — Michael Bommarito, Daniel Martin Katz, Jonathan Zelner & James Fowler, Distance Measures for Dynamic Citation Networks 389 Physica A 4201 (2010) < SSRN > < arXiv >

Measuring the Temperature and Diversity of the U.S. Regulatory Ecosystem – Bommarito + Katz – Presentation at Stanford CodeX on April 5th 2017


We are excited to be giving a talk at Stanford the day before the Future Law Conference.  Our talk will be hosted by Stanford CodeX – The Center for Legal Informatics. If you are in the Bay Area – you can join us by signing up for free here.

The underlying paper is available here.  Some starter slides here (start at slide 158) and we will be previewing our second paper in this three part series.

Measuring the Temperature and Diversity of the U.S. Regulatory Ecosystem (Preprint on arXiv + SSRN)

From the Abstract:  Over the last 23 years, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has required over 34,000 companies to file over 165,000 annual reports. These reports, the so-called “Form 10-Ks,” contain a characterization of a company’s financial performance and its risks, including the regulatory environment in which a company operates. In this paper, we analyze over 4.5 million references to U.S. Federal Acts and Agencies contained within these reports to build a mean-field measurement of temperature and diversity in this regulatory ecosystem. While individuals across the political, economic, and academic world frequently refer to trends in this regulatory ecosystem, there has been far less attention paid to supporting such claims with large-scale, longitudinal data. In this paper, we document an increase in the regulatory energy per filing, i.e., a warming “temperature.” We also find that the diversity of the regulatory ecosystem has been increasing over the past two decades, as measured by the dimensionality of the regulatory space and distance between the “regulatory bitstrings” of companies. This measurement framework and its ongoing application contribute an important step towards improving academic and policy discussions around legal complexity and the regulation of large-scale human techno-social systems.

Available in PrePrint on SSRN and on the Physics arXiv.

Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code ( Slides by Daniel Martin Katz & Michael J. Bommarito II )

Measuring the Complexity of the Law: The United States Code (By Daniel Martin Katz & Michael J. Bommarito)

From our abstract:  “Einstein’s razor, a corollary of Ockham’s razor, is often paraphrased as follows: make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.  This rule of thumb describes the challenge that designers of a legal system face—to craft simple laws that produce desired ends, but not to pursue simplicity so far as to undermine those ends.  Complexity, simplicity’s inverse, taxes cognition and increases the likelihood of suboptimal decisions.  In addition, unnecessary legal complexity can drive a misallocation of human capital toward comprehending and complying with legal rules and away from other productive ends.

While many scholars have offered descriptive accounts or theoretical models of legal complexity, empirical research to date has been limited to simple measures of size, such as the number of pages in a bill.  No extant research rigorously applies a meaningful model to real data.  As a consequence, we have no reliable means to determine whether a new bill, regulation, order, or precedent substantially effects legal complexity.

In this paper, we address this need by developing a proposed empirical framework for measuring relative legal complexity.  This framework is based on “knowledge acquisition,” an approach at the intersection of psychology and computer science, which can take into account the structure, language, and interdependence of law. We then demonstrate the descriptive value of this framework by applying it to the U.S. Code’s Titles, scoring and ranking them by their relative complexity.  Our framework is flexible, intuitive, and transparent, and we offer this approach as a first step in developing a practical methodology for assessing legal complexity.”

This is a draft version so we invite your comments (katzd@law.msu.edu) and (michael.bommarito@gmail.com).  Also, for those who might be interested – we are building out a full replication page for the paper.  In the meantime, all of the relevant code and data can be accessed at GitHub and from the Cornell Legal Information Institute.

UPDATE: Paper was named “Download of the Week” by Legal Theory Blog.