Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
The Courts United States Politics

Predicting US Supreme Court Justice Votes 186

Posted by Soulskill
from the indulge-your-cynicism dept.
New submitter Pierre Bezukhov writes "Researchers Roger Guimera and Marta Sales-Pardo of Spain set out to ask whether one of the nine Supreme Court justices could be plucked from the bench and replaced with an algorithm that does not take into account the law or the case at issue, but does take into account the other justices' votes and the court's record. These researchers say their computational models, using methods developed to analyze complex social networks, are just as accurate in predicting a justice's decision as forecasts from legal experts. 'We find that Supreme Court justices are significantly more predictable than one would expect from "ideally independent" justices in "ideal courts,"' that is, free agents independently evaluating cases on their merits, free of ideology, the study said."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Predicting US Supreme Court Justice Votes

Comments Filter:
  • Fantastic (Score:3, Funny)

    by Jeremi (14640) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:06PM (#38036494) Homepage

    Now Thomas is going to the Halting-Problem-Buster trick, by getting a copy of this program and ruling the opposite of whatever it predicts he's going to do.

    • Re:Fantastic (Score:4, Interesting)

      by DJRumpy (1345787) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:37PM (#38036698)

      Actually, Scalia was found to be the most activist with Thomas running a close second. Conservative judges were also found to me more activist (willing to strike down rulings that lean towards a liberal bias). There's an interesting study on judicial partisanship that was done over 20 years of cases. The old conservative class of 'Liberal Activists Judges" turns out to not be entirely true after all, but rather leaning more towards a conservative trend towards begin activist.

      http://www.law.harvard.edu/news/2008/08/04_sunstein.html [harvard.edu]

      • Re:Fantastic (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Hartree (191324) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:52PM (#38036758)

        There's a bit of a time horizon issue in that. You've got to decide what period of time you look at. That's going to have an impact on what you see.

        My guess is that if you looked at the years of the Warren court, you'd get a different answer.

        The court is not utterly independent of the politics of the country around it. In the 50s, there was a move toward activist decisions that could be considered liberal at their time. In the 80s, there was something of a reversal of that with more activist decisions coming from the right.

        The group that is defending the status quo of the time is less likely to be "activist" than a group more inclined to change it.

        • My perception is that the 50's to the 90's were a period where justices (liberal or conservative) respected precedent even if they disagreed with it.

          Since Reagan, the conservative justice are willing to regularly turn over very long standing precedents.

          • Forgive me, but I'm a touch incredulous at that statement.

            Not my recollection (60s through now) at all, especially the Warren court and the early 70s.

            The Warren court was pretty unabashedly activist. Go read up on it. They saw themselves as addressing needed social injustices via court decision. You may agree with what they decided (and many times it was needed badly as the civil rights cases and some of the liability) but that's the very definition of judicial activism.

            How do you think they didn't overturn

      • Re:Fantastic (Score:5, Informative)

        by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @05:19PM (#38036886)
        That is interesting, but from your usage, it appears that you misunderstand what being an "activist" judge means. An "activist" judge is one who attempts to create law in the courtroom, as opposed to evaluating existing law. It is not a "left vs. right", "liberal vs. conservative" concept.
        • by DJRumpy (1345787)

          A judge doesn't "create" law. They interpret it. Interesting idea, but the reality is they simply interpret existing law in a way that provides a favorable outcome to whatever partisan leanings they have.

          In the context of partisan leanings, it is most decidedly a liberal vs conservative concept.

          • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

            by StikyPad (445176)

            Actually, the higher courts do create law -- case law -- but despite the gripings of the GP, that's their job. Similarly, the executive branch creates regulations with the force of law. All three branches create law, it's just the methods that differ, and ultimately the legislative branch has the authority to override regulations, rulings, and even the constitution itself.

            • by fyngyrz (762201)

              ultimately the legislative branch has the authority to override regulations, rulings, and even the constitution itself.

              ...and here we have the ultimate expression of free speech. You can say anything you want, even when it is simultaneously wrongheaded, stupid, misleading, and flat-out incorrect -- all at once.

              I congratulate you, sir, on completely failing to understand how your government works, and further, for attempting to spread that failure far and wide.

              • Re:Fantastic (Score:5, Insightful)

                by Bacon Bits (926911) on Sunday November 13, 2011 @01:54AM (#38039400)

                Uh, that isn't wrong. You're wrong.

                The legislative branch can and has overridden regulations, rulings, and the constitution. It does that by passing new laws. In the case of the US Constitution, new amendments must be passed. The most obvious example is the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution, but . You can also consider the example of the judicial interpretation of Eminent Domain in Kelo v. City of New London. Several states have since passed amendments to State Constitutions (Michigan [mi.gov], for example) which restrict or bar the state's ability to use eminent domain.

                The judicial branch interprets the law, which includes removal of laws which are proscribed by other laws. It does not get a choice about what the law is, only how to interpret it and how each law interacts with the others or how a law applies in a given case.

                The executive branch executes an enforces existing laws, and is allowed to issue rules and regulations that enable executing the laws. It does not get a choice about what the law is, only how to go about executing it.

                The legislative branch exists solely to create new laws. It alone determines what the law is. It alone is given the power to amend the Constitution (Article 5). Neither the judicial nor the executive branch is given that power. Indeed, the executive branch doesn't even get veto power for constitutional amendments. Additionally, the legislature alone is given the power of impeachment (Article I), which may be used to remove any civil servant from office, including a President or Supreme Court Justice.

                Congress has the ultimate trump card. The problem is that it's legislation by committee, meaning they spend all their time talking and very little actually doing anything. This, I think, is simultaneously the greatest and worst idea the founding fathers had.

                • by fyngyrz (762201)

                  You need to re-read article V; you didn't understand it.

                  Short version: congress can't pass an amendment: there are only two ways to do that. First is ratification by the legislatures of 3/4ths of the states, second is via constitutional conventions in 3/4ths of the states. Congress is powerless to make any authorized, legitimate changes to the constitution -- it's not their decision to make.

                  And when they step out of line and do so anyway (as they quite often do), the supreme court can overrule them. So the

          • by magarity (164372)

            A judge doesn't "create" law. They interpret it.

            They aren't supposed to create law but many rulings have that affect. Look at Brown v Board of Education - that judge ordered a bus system and school districts re-arranged to equalize ethnic student mixtures. This didn't explicitly create the same thing as what the legislature produces in terms of "a law" but to pay for the buses taxes had to be raised, something that's normally only done via law by the legislature.

            • by DJRumpy (1345787)

              They have the appearance of that to some extent but these justices are still confined within the law they are ruling on. They can't just create law out of nothing. They are not a power absolute unto themselves. They too con be impeached just like the president.

              Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a good example of that. The judges interpreted it's meaning to include personhood for a corporation based on their opinion, but they were still confined to the wording on the law as they interpreted it

              • by hairyfeet (841228)
                Uhhh...then how do you explain the stretching of the commerce clause beyond all realms of logic or sanity? When they said interstate commerce was affected by a guy growing his own feed for his own animals (can't remember the case offhand, someone here does i'm sure) how could you call that anything BUT creating law out of thin air? The commerce clause says interstate commerce, not inter field.
                • Too many armchair legal scholars on Slashdot tonight. I might as well join in. I believe you're talking about Wickard v Filburn. Filburn was a farmer who grew wheat on his farm in excess of amounts permitted in 1942 by the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. The important background is that AAA limited the acreage farmers could use for growing wheat in order to limit wheat production nationally. The purpose was to set the market price higher for wheat. Filburn argued that the wheat he grew was for private

                  • by DJRumpy (1345787)

                    An excellent case in point, and I think good example of why many assume that judges "create" law, when in fact they are still constrained to the framework of the law they are judging. The ruling did not step outside of the framework of the law by which it was judged, and although the judges ruling did have the appearance of creating new 'law', it in fact did not. The ruling reinforced congressional authority via the Interstate Commerce Act of 1887. The ruling had a basis in existing law.

          • by Fjandr (66656)

            I suggest you read up on common law. Judges most certainly do create law in legal systems that are based on the concept of common law.

            The US is one such system.

            • I did not say they don't create law. I said that (a) theoretically they aren't supposed to... they are supposed to simply interpret existing legislation, and (b) when they do, they are called "activist" judges.

              It depends somewhat on what your definition is. Even precedent could be considered "creating law", in a sense. But not in the sense that is generally meant when referring to activist judges.
              • by Fjandr (66656)

                Was this actually meant to be a reply to my comment, or was it misplaced?

                It doesn't seem to follow...

            • Case law is not the same as legislated law. The fundamental difference is one of scope: the Court is obligated to justify itself using other existing laws, the legislature can do whatever it would like (although it may need to amend the constitution to do so). Even the most extreme examples of case law such as Miranda v. Arizona or Plessy v. Ferguson or Roe v. Wade the court still justifies it's actions using existing laws.

              To paraphrase Mark Twain: the Court is obliged to stick to the law; Congress isn't.

              • by Fjandr (66656)

                Nevertheless, the statement was incorrect. Where broad ambiguities are built into many laws because it is difficult to cover all aspects of a given topic without creating abusable loopholes, the actual scope of application regarding a specific law is frequently created by the courts where no specifics existed before.

                Yes, there are important differences, but that does not change the fundamental point that courts do create law. With regard to common law, they are in fact expected to create law. It's a feature

          • "A judge doesn't "create" law. They interpret it."

            You haven't read much in the way of legal theory, have you?

            Outside of the most conservative legal theories, such as classical legal positivism and natural law theory, few legal scholars would object to the idea that judges create law. Some would say that judges should be careful not to give the appearance of creating law because such an appearance might lead the masses to object. But, for the most part, the dispute between various legal philosophies is not o

            • by DJRumpy (1345787)

              As I said, within the construct of the law they are ruling against, they have latitude, but that latitude is limited. They can't simply create something out of nothing as they must base those decisions on laws within them. This is not a black and white answer. Within the construct of the law they are ruling on the latitude allows them to interpret existing law but they can't create new law out of a vacuum.

              In short, I don't disagree that they can create rulings within the construct of the law they are judgin

          • "A judge doesn't "create" law. They interpret it. Interesting idea, but the reality is they simply interpret existing law in a way that provides a favorable outcome to whatever partisan leanings they have."

            Obviously you aren't familiar with the concept. Of course they aren't supposed to create law, but some do... or try to. Which is exactly why they're called "activist" judges.

          • "Liberal" vs. "Conservative" is too broad, there's a special kind of conservatism the activist high court judges favor. I call it power conservatism. It's the idea that a judge's job is to maintain order, and the way to maintain order is to not overturn any established power relationships - always side with those who have power.

            Jeffrey Toobin commented in the New Yorker in 2009 [newyorker.com], that up to then, high court judge Roberts had in every major case before him, sided with power. "The prosecution over the defendan

        • by ffflala (793437)

          That is interesting, but from your usage, it appears that you misunderstand what being an "activist" judge means. An "activist" judge is one who attempts to create law in the courtroom, as opposed to evaluating existing law. It is not a "left vs. right", "liberal vs. conservative" concept.

          The US is a common law country. Common law can accurately be described as "judge-made-law". Published decisions and opinions *are* law.

          Any judge who publishes a decision or opinion is creating law. Stare decisis means that future courts/judges are supposed to take into account previous judge-made-law, and rule as consistently with it as possible. (Less frequently prior decisions/opinions are overruled, or (slightly more often) "distinguished".)

          As I understand it, "activist" judge is used to describe a jud

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by magarity (164372)

        Actually, Scalia was found to be the most activist with Thomas running a close second. Conservative judges were also found to me more activist (willing to strike down rulings that lean towards a liberal bias)

        There are two main types of Federal justices: originalists and activists. An activist is not one who rules contrary to prior decisions. An activist justice is one who rules according to his/her view of how things out to be in the modern world. An originalist rules according to how he/she thinks the founders of the country would have thought of the matter. Neither Scalia nor Thomas can be "most activist" or even activist at all; both are well known for quoting historical sources as the basis for their deci

      • by magarity (164372)

        The guy who wrote that study saying justices appointed by conservative presidents are 'activists' instead of 'originalists' is far left himself. Check out his book about how FDR's New Deal programs didn't go nearly far enough on social welfare rights.

      • You have conservative Christian 'law schools' that focus specifically on teaching how to use and apply law toward the explicit agenda of moving it in the direction of biblical principles. By definition, they are designed to only turn out activists. It is their express stated intent, and the way those schools promote themselves as different from traditional law schools they compete with. Is it any surprise then that the only real sizable pool of 'activist' judges are conservative/christian supremacist type
    • by dgatwood (11270)

      Amusingly, that would almost invariably result in a better and more well-reasoned decision, IMO.... Excluding cases that were unanimous or nearly unanimous, I can only think of one case I've ever looked at where I agreed with Justice Thomas, and even then, although I agreed with his decision, I disagreed with the reasoning that led him to that decision.

  • I don't get it... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by adamchou (993073) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:07PM (#38036498)
    Algorithms like this have to be modeled after the historical decisions that the justices decided upon. So of course they accurately "predict" the historical decisions. So how do they know how accurate these things are for future decisions? I couldn't RTFA because the damn article isn't loading on my crappy government Internet connection.
    • by PhrostyMcByte (589271) <phrosty@gmail.com> on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:27PM (#38036654) Homepage

      Typically when doing this kind of statistical analysis, one uses half the data for training and half the data for accuracy tests.

      I haven't RTFA though, so I don't know what they've done.

    • Re:I don't get it... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @05:24PM (#38036904)

      "So of course they accurately "predict" the historical decisions."

      In tests of this nature, the way such algorithms are tested is by giving them a subset of historical data (ideally chosen randomly), then seeing if the program can predict outcomes from historical situations that were not included in the "learning" data.

      So your objection has little merit.

      • by adamchou (993073)
        If you'd re-read what I wrote, I didn't object to anything. I asked a question.

        So your accusations have little merit.
        • "Algorithms like this have to be modeled after the historical decisions that the justices decided upon. So of course they accurately 'predict' the historical decisions. "

          You did not explicitly object, but here you strongly implied something that has no relationship to how these experiments are actually carried out, demonstrating ignorance of the process. Call that an "accusation" if you like, but it does have merit.

          • by adamchou (993073)
            Really? Wow. I didn't explicitly object, as you stated. My first sentence you quoted is exactly what you told me....

            algorithms are tested is by giving them a subset of historical data

            My second sentence draws what I perceive to be true so that I can ask the question...

            So how do they know how accurate these things are for future decisions?

            • "My first sentence you quoted is exactly what you told me.... "

              No, it isn't. Note the word "subset", which makes all the difference.

              "My second sentence draws what I perceive to be true so that I can ask the question... "

              But that is my entire point. Your second question presumes that the algorithm is fed all the historical data. But that's not the way it is done.

              It is not given a perfect knowledge of past decisions during the testing phase. It is only given some of the data to work from, and then tested to see how well it predicts the other data that it is not given to start with.

              Therefore, it is very easy to test whether it is good at making predi

    • You don't need to RTFA because the entire premise is bunk. The high court exists for interpretation of the law, heck, the entire legal system exists due to the need to interpret the meaning of written law. There is ultimately no "ideal" or "unbiased" way to make such decisions, nor should anyone try to pretend there is.

  • by rshol (746340) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:08PM (#38036504)

    Wait, what? Supreme court justices have political opinions? Who would have thunk it.

    • Political opinions are a given. However, those opinions are not supposed to bias judges in their evaluation of the law: they are supposed to exercise "judicial restraint", and separate their own opinions from the legal facts.

      Some people are better at that than others. I would argue that because for generations, Supreme Court justices have been appointed specifically because of their ideologies, as opposed to their legal brilliance or objectivity, that the current Supreme Court is rather terrible at it.
      • The name "Elena Kagan" springs to mind, as a rather glaring recent example.
    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The point is that for the consistency of decisions, they don't just have political opinions, but they decide all cases based solely on the topic, with complete disregard of the law and the facts of the cases brought before them.
  • Yet another reason that people shouldn't fear the coming rule of the computer overlord...
  • by Nidi62 (1525137) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:22PM (#38036606)

    The whole point of the Supreme Court is interpretation. Interpretation of how a law applies to a given situation (and if it even does). This involves more than just case knowledge, it relies on all their experience behind the bench, as well as their own beliefs. The justices are ruling on how they think the law applies, based upon their own knowledge of case law, the language of the law in question, and their belief as to the intention of that law. Impartiality is possible in application; it is much harder, if not impossible, in interpretation.

    And this ignores the fact that Supreme Court Justices are in fact political appointees and are selected based upon how they ruled on given cases (ie, in a way the President and majority of Congress ideologically supports). So even selection, well, selects towards those with a certain bias depending on which party is in control of the government at the time of appointment.

    • And this ignores the fact that Supreme Court Justices are in fact political appointees and are selected based upon how they ruled on given cases (ie, in a way the President and majority of Congress ideologically supports). So even selection, well, selects towards those with a certain bias depending on which party is in control of the government at the time of appointment.

      Of course, as has been seen with appointments such as David Souter, John Paul Stevens,and Earl Warren, the political alignment of the standing president hasn't always correlated well with the future track record of their appointees.

      • by anom (809433)

        IMO this is a good thing -- it shows that the concept behind the lifetime appointment works. Once they're on the bench, even if they "owe someone" for getting there, there's nothing that can really force them to rule one way or another.

        • More precisely, it shows the benefit of them not having to run for reappointment or reelection. Lifetime appointment isn't necessary to accomplish that -- instead of lifetime they could be appointed for one fixed-length term of (for example) 18 years.

    • "The whole point of the Supreme Court is interpretation. Interpretation of how a law applies to a given situation (and if it even does)."

      Yes, but the idea of "interpretation" has often been applied much too loosely... to include things such as "what did the framer of this legislation really mean?" (when the actual meaning is already clear from the historical record), and "what would have the writers of this law have actually written if they were alive today?"

      As you say: the license given to judges is to interpret whether and how the law applies... not to decide what the law is, or to create law from the bench. Those are matters for the le

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @04:25PM (#38036636)

    The whole point of the legal system is that courts don1t just hand out verdicts randomly, but according to the laws available for everyone. Without that, people wouldn't know how to act legally. In fact, ideally one should be able to predict what a courts decision would be in every situation. unfortunately, the legal systems of the world are too complicated/contradictory for that.

    • by tetromino (807969)
      Note quite. Lower level courts, the ones that hand out the final decision for the vast majority of everyday cases, are supposed to be predictable. But the Supreme Court is supposed to only handle appeals for the most difficult and borderline cases where nobody can really tell in advance what the right decision ought to be. Your local traffic court's decisions are supposed to be very predictable, but it's truly disturbing if an algorithm can accurately model SCOTUS.
    • Predictability isn't a good thing when it's based on biases. Suppose the court always rules against black men who appealed death sentences, but always granted clemency for white men who did the same.

      Predictability based on looking at the Constitution would be a good thing. But predictability based on looking at which president appointed which justice is predictable bias, which is undesirable for a court.

  • They are supposed to evaluate based on the Constitution of the United States.

    'On the merits' is arbitrary because whomever is evaluating will do so according to their own ideas of good and bad, of what works and what doesn't. In some cases, this kind of freedom to decide on whatever basis you like can be interesting or liberating, but it's not the point of SCOTUS.

    Obviously there will still be their own ideas on good and bad even with an agreed-upon standard, but having to explain your legal reasoning relati

    • They are supposed to evaluate based on the Constitution of the United States.

      The problem is that the Constitution doesn't actually tell you the answer in 99% of cases. Take the case currently up for decision about the police attaching a GPS tracker to the suspect's car without a warrant. The Fourth Amendment says this:

      The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

      It doesn't say anything specifically about GPS tracking devices. Whether it applies to them is entirely a matter of opinion. It's a policy question. There are arguments for both sides. There is no right or wrong answer until such time as the SCOTUS tells us what it is.

      • "The problem is that the Constitution doesn't actually tell you the answer in 99% of cases."

        Nonsense.

        "It doesn't say anything specifically about GPS tracking devices."

        It doesn't need to. In what way would you say that tracking someone 24 hours a day, without their consent or a warrant, is "reasonable"? The fact is that it isn't reasonable. Tracking someone in this manner is NOT the same as just observing them. As one attorney put it, this kind of tracking allows police to infer all kinds of things about a citizen that are simply none of their business, such as who you do business with, who your girlfriend is, who you associate with politically, and so on.

        Such

        • by fyngyrz (762201)

          Furthermore, GPS is the direct technological equivalent of going straight to the objective of a search: "Where is this person's vehicle?" "...it's right there!"

          That makes the active technology -- that is, a running GPS feeding vehicle location info to the authorities -- exactly the same as a constantly updated, successful search for a citizen's effect -- a vehicle -- and often, their person as well.

          Therefore, said GPS based search requires a warrant; a warrant requires probable cause, supported by oath or a

        • Of course it's unreasonable. But is it a search or seizure under the constitution? Cue all the arguments about how they could get the same result by paying a squadron of police $100,000/year each plus benefits to sit in front of your house and follow you around all day and all night whenever you leave.

          If the answer was obvious then we wouldn't need the Supreme Court to decide it.

          Or let's pick a different example. Suppose I own a printing press or a web server or whatever other means of publication. Can Cong

          • "Of course it's unreasonable. But is it a search or seizure under the constitution?"

            No, it's not. Plain and simple. Because "unreasonable" searches and seizures are unconstitutional. It says so in so many words.

            "If the answer was obvious then we wouldn't need the Supreme Court to decide it."

            That doesn't follow at all. How many courts have you seen lately making "reasonable" decisions? Agreeing with the common citizen, as opposed to commercial interests?

      • by Aquitaine (102097)

        The problem is that the Constitution doesn't actually tell you the answer in 99% of cases.

        Nor is it supposed to. It is merely an agreed-upon basis for resolving questions like your GPS example. It isn't an answer key.

        My point was just that there's going to be a huge difference both in outcome and in reasoning if you had 9 people whose job it was to decide whether shit was fair versus having the same 9 people decide the same cases based entirely on what the Constitution says. There's still a lot of interpretation and reasoning going on, but it's a lot less arbitrary.

  • So, in other words, the judges on the Supreme Court are consistent: So consistent that you can determine exactly what "ideology" (read: principles) are guiding their decisions and replace them with a rote algorithm that would make decisions based on the same principles. Even if I don't agree with a judge's principles, I'd rather see them follow some principle consistently, rather than have them act like "flip-flopping" politicians, taking whatever position is pragmatic, expedient, or profitable at the momen

    • by AK Marc (707885)
      The problem is that the principles they should be following are the law, not their prejudices. They place their ideology above the law. Flip flopping based on the arguments is what they *should* be doing. Instead, they ignore the facts of the case to make a decision contrary to the law based on their personal opinion, and you think that's better than listening to the facts?
    • You have missed the point completely.

      There is only room for one "principle" in a courtroom, and that is the principle of law. Any other "principles" the judges bring to the table have no place there, at all.

      The whole point was that this demonstration showed that whatever "principles" the justices have been following, the law wasn't one of them. Or at least, hardly the most influential of them.
      • by J'raxis (248192)

        See the other replies to my post. We're talking about the court whose cases are often about determining what that law is, not the courts who are trying facts against the law.

  • by Hartree (191324) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @05:17PM (#38036868)

    I used to work with a group that simulated the folding of proteins.

    You'd take an assortment of protein sequences and train a neural net on how they folded. Then you try to use that to predict the folding of another different protein that wasn't in the set you trained it on.

    But, in this case, they don't try to predict the behavior of an independent case, they use it to predict the behavior of one of the 8 items (justices) they trained the simulation on. That's fine as an exercise in simulation, but using it to reach conclusions on intent and bias is a real reach. I suspect the journalists hyped that part of it a lot more than the researchers themselves.

    That's underwhelming enough as is. But what do you use as a measure of how "independent" a judge is?

    Assuming no relationship between decisions is ludicrous. On many items that aren't terribly controversial, Ginsburg and Scalia, for example, would rule similarly just because they are trained judges with a background in US law.

    Similarly, you wouldn't be surprised if Krugman and Friedman agreed on the proper answer to a question from an Econ 101 textbook, regardless that they would differ massively on more complex issues.

    Add to that, the Supreme Court doesn't get the expected and routine "no-brainer" type decisions. It's where the ones with thorny legal interpretation and constitutional issues end up.

    I'd be really surprised if you didn't have a correlation between how one particular justice votes and how the rest of the justices vote.

    • Unlike Friedman and Milton (who actually agree on more macroeconomic issues than the disagree over), judges frequently have completely different ideas on what law is.

      To mention just a few positions:

      • legal realism: law is nothing more than the prediction of how judges will rule (Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Richard Posner, etc.)
      • classical legal positivism: law is nothing more than the commands of a sovereign (Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill)
      • modern legal positivism: law is what emerges out of a professional leg
      • Yes, I'm quite aware of the philosophical differences of judges and that they assume different bases for law.

        But look at what actually happens. They often reach the same conclusions regardless.

        It's not the only field that happens in. Example: Look at physics. Bohr and Everett disagreed fundamentally on what the nature of quantum reality was. And yet, they would calculate the exact same results.

        As the next post points out (mythicalreptile), last term better than half the decisions were unanimous.

        Are you real

    • Assuming no relationship between decisions is ludicrous. On many items that aren't terribly controversial, Ginsburg and Scalia, for example, would rule similarly just because they are trained judges with a background in US law.

      [...]

      I'd be really surprised if you didn't have a correlation between how one particular justice votes and how the rest of the justices vote.

      Exactly. [amazonaws.com] (PDF)

      TL,DR:
      Last Supreme Court term,
      -Almost half of all Supreme Court decisions were unanimous
      -The two Justices who disagreed most frequently in judgment were Ginsburg and Alito--and they still agreed with each other noticeably more than half the time (62.5%). Ginsburg and Scalia, in your example, agreed in judgment 65% of the time.
      -That said, there is at least some truth to there being a "liberal wing" and a "conservative wing" (with Kennedy being the "swing vote"): of the 16 cases that were de

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Saturday November 12, 2011 @05:19PM (#38036878)
    I liked my time in law school. Nothing pissed off a law-worshiper more than pointing out that the Supreme Court was a means to code unreasoned opinion into law, as the decisions use law to justify opinions, the opposite of what the courts assert (where they say they come to their opinions through examining the law, rather than force their personal opinions into law). The legal experts have been able to predict not only the direction in which they vote, but also the reasons they would give. But it's interesting to learn that an algorithm is sufficient, with no analyzation of the facts and law necessary.
    • by Hartree (191324)

      "But it's interesting to learn that an algorithm is sufficient, with no analyzation of the facts and law necessary."

      That's not what the simulation did.

      It can't independently predict the decisions. It predicts what one justice will do based on what the others do.

      Implicit in what the other justices do is analyzing the fact and law of the case.

  • 'We find that Supreme Court justices are significantly more predictable than one would expect from "ideally independent" justices in "ideal courts,"' that is, free agents independently evaluating cases on their merits, free of ideology, the study said."

    That's because the Supreme Court isn't simply the last court of appeals. Deciding cases on their individual merits is what the rest of the judicial system is for. The Supremes don't accept cases because the facts are in question, but rather because the law

    • by Fjandr (66656)

      They also accept cases based on the process being in question, which is just as important (and sometimes more so) as nailing down questions of law.

    • by fyngyrz (762201)

      Determining what the law should mean is an inherently ideological question

      No. It's a constitutional question. They take an oath that effect. The problem is that the entire collection of SCOTUS judges we have at present are batshit insane and neither understand the constitution, or take the oath they gave with any degree of seriousness.

  • So basically, what we're saying here is that the U.S. Supreme Court failed the Turing test? Really? Please tell me, at the least, that they are Turing complete.

Computers will not be perfected until they can compute how much more than the estimate the job will cost.

Working...