Presidents' Success When Appointing Justices. (Supreme Court)

USA TODAY, August 2002 | Go to article overview

Presidents' Success When Appointing Justices. (Supreme Court)


When a president names a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, he hopes that appointee will support his policies long into the future. However, a study of Supreme Court justices appointed by presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Bill Clinton showed that they are successful only in the short term.

While the votes of justices initially tend to agree with the leader who appointed them, within 10 years their votes no longer closely reflect the president's policy views. "The success of presidents at naming justices who will support their views is somewhat fleeting," notes Richard Timpone, assistant professor of political science, Ohio State University, Columbus. Of the 11 presidents studied, Ronald Reagan and Clinton did best at naming justices who followed their policy preferences. Timpone conducted the study with lead author Jeffrey Segal of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Robert Howard of Georgia State University, Atlanta.

The researchers first conducted a random mail survey of political scientists who specialized in the presidency. They asked the respondents to rate the presidents from Roosevelt to Clinton on a scale of one to 100 on their liberalism in economic policy and social policy. The researchers then examined the voting records of all justices appointed by those 11 presidents, specifically in civil liberties and economics cases. Then they analyzed how closely the votes cast by those justices matched the liberal or conservative views of the president who appointed them.

"Overall, the results showed presidents do reasonably well in appointing justices who seem to follow their policy preferences," Timpone says. …

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