The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview

7 Presidential Expectation and Judicial Performance

The Constitution is what the judges say it is. 1


INTRODUCTION

In this chapter, I discuss the extent to which district court judges have supported the policy objectives of their appointing presidents by reviewing and comparing these judges' significant decisions (the SDCC data) with the corresponding judges' appointing presidents' policy objectives. 2 Specifically, I examine the nexus between what presidents want the "law" (Constitution and statutes) to mean, and what judges in fact say the "law" means. This comparative analysis allows us to discern more clearly the extent to which these determinations comport with the expectations of the appointing presidents and the efficacy of their varied selection politics. For this part of the analysis, the expectation profiles developed in the previous chapters are grouped into combinations of several general subjective categories; specifically, "high," "moderate," and "low-no" priority, and, "high," "moderate" and "low-no" expectation. The high priority rating is used when the given president expressed a direct and specific policy preference--for example, President Reagan's explicit promise to "bring prayer back into the classroom." Similarly, what I term high expectation issues are also those issues on which a given president expressed an explicit desire to appoint judges they believed shared and would promote policy preferences similar to their own (on that specific issue). Again, an example would be President Reagan's specific promise to overturn Roe v. Wade and to appoint antiabortion judges who shared this view.

The second profile category, moderate priority issues, are those where a president expressed moderate, but not strong and deep, concern about an issue-- for example, President Ford's limited and sporadic attention to voting rights guarantees. Likewise, a moderate-expectation issue is one where the president

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