The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview
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opinions and, as indicated in Table 7.5, these significant opinions restrict guarantees of voting rights at a ratio of 11-7. Though yet another close ratio, still the balance to date swings in Reagan's favor.

President Bush's appointees have to date rendered only two significant voting rights opinions, one supporting and one restricting voting rights guarantees. President Clinton's appointees are thus far credited with only one significant opinion supporting voting rights guarantees (see Table 7.5). These preliminary findings for President Reagan are highly suggestive, given the reality that his conservative court-packing campaign did not really get under way until mid- 1985. 8 Thus, the pattern of relationships between these recent presidents and their respective judges' performance is yet in its infant stages. President Reagan, during his eight-year tenure, appointed about half of the lower bench, and President Clinton stands to do the same. Thus, these presidents' appointees have the potential to influence significant policy outcomes well into the twenty-first century.

Chapter Summary

The basic task of this chapter has been to demonstrate the proportional frequency in which judges have rendered significant district court opinions supporting or opposing their appointing president's legal policy positions. The most obvious finding is that in all but two instances, when presidents have expressed an overt policy objective (i.e., high priority/high expectation), they have achieved strong measures of proportional success. The documented exceptions to this general finding include Nixon's lack of success regarding issues of abortion and school desegregation. 9 The SDCC analysis also suggests that lower federal court judges are not totally constrained by strict higher court guidelines and have been free to vote their own policy proclivities.

The next chapter, Chapter 8, examines whether and to what extent African- American and Latino judges might differ from their white male cohorts utilizing these judges' responses to issues raised in the National District Court Judge Survey (NDJS).

Chief Justice Charles Evan Hughes, Speech at Elmira, New York ( May 3, 1907), as quoted by Robert Bork in The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law ( New York: The Free Press, 1990), p. 176.
For a more detailed discussion of the "significant case" approach, as well as an overview of the frequencies and nature of the cases selected, see Appendix B in this volume.
For example, other recent exploratory studies on the voting behavior of President Clinton's judicial appointees reveal that "even near the end of Clinton's four-year term, the number of his appointees' published decisions is rather modest." See Ronald Stidham, Robert A. Carp and Donald Songer, "The Voting Behavior of President Clinton's Judicial Appointees," Judicature 80 ( 1996), p. 16.
Also, as evidenced in Table 7.3, the two highest proportions in support of affirma


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The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process
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