The Gatekeepers: Federal District Courts in the Political Process

By Kevin L. Lyles | Go to book overview

Appendix B: The Significant District Court Case Data (SDCC)

PART I

General Methodological Review and Data Summary

The "significant district court case" data (SDCC) was compiled utilizing the Bureau of National Affairs' publication, U.S. Law Week. U.S. Law Week, a well- recognized and independent source, publishes a weekly "Digests of Significant Opinions Not Yet Generally Reported." Specifically, the data were obtained by going page by page through the weekly "Digests of Significant Opinions Not Yet Generally Reported in U.S. Law Week. 1 The SDCC data therefore consist of all significant cases published between July 1960 and December 1996, across the five policy areas. 2

This procedure allows for an assessment of the substantive/qualitative policy implications of a manageable number of significant cases representative of federal district court policymaking. As stated in Chapter 1, this has been the widely accepted practice among political scientists and others in studying judicial politics and policymaking. For example, case books and treaties on constitutional law and civil liberties do not, and need not, include abstracts of every case the Supreme Court decides. On the contrary, these works include only the "significant" cases, those that signal new or important judicial positions (e.g., doctrinal developments) in important policy conflicts. Clearly, the "significant case" approach can also prove useful in analyzing the policymaking activities of federal district courts as well.

Thus, in contrast to earlier studies, the significant case approach used in this analysis provides an innovative departure from the more often used vote counting methodologies utilizing the "all case" or "all published case" approaches. The significant case approach, then, provides an excellent context in which to

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