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August 26, 2004

Contact: Angie Joe
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Bush’s Re-election Could Produce More Conservative Courts,
Says UH Political Scientist Robert Carp

HOUSTON, Aug. 26, 2004 – If President George W. Bush wins re-election in November, the federal judiciary could take on an even sharper conservative slant, according to a new study by a University of Houston political scientist.

The research appears in the current issue of Judicature, a publication from the American Judicature Society.
Analysis for “The Decision Making Behavior of George W. Bush’s Judicial Appointees” was conducted by political science professors Robert A. Carp, UH; Kenneth L. Manning, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth; and Ronald Stidham, Appalachian State University.

They consulted West Publishing Company’s Federal Supplement to code district court decisions using a liberal-conservative dimension involving civil liberties and rights, criminal justice and labor and economic regulation decisions. More than 70,000 cases from more than 1700 judges during a 75-year span were analyzed. Carp, the study’s lead investigator, has been conducting the research for more than three decades.

George W. Bush’s judicial appointees delivered liberal decisions only 27.9 percent of the time in cases involving civil liberties and rights, compared to Richard Nixon’s (37.9), Gerald Ford’s (40.3), Ronald Reagan’s (32.3) and George H. Bush’s (32.2). Democratic Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton judges scored 58.1, 51.3 and 42.1 percent correspondingly in the same category.

“Bush is the most conservative president in recent history when it comes to civil rights and liberties,” said Carp. “When considering other categories like criminal justice and labor and economic regulation, the President and his GOP predecessors rank about the same. Likewise, there is little difference between Bush and Clinton judges as it relates to economic, criminal and labor law.”

Overall, the President’s appointees handed down 36.1 percent liberal rulings, ideologically about the same as previous Republican presidents. In comparison, Nixon, Ford, Reagan and the elder Bush scored at 38.1, 43.5, 35.8 and 37.0 respectively. Presidents Johnson, Carter and Clinton were at 51.9, 51.6 and 44.7
The more judges a president can select, the greater the influence the White House has on the judicial branch, according to the article’s authors. Given that several Supreme Court justices are on brink of retirement, whoever wins November’s election will have a tremendous influence on high court rulings in the next several years.

On the lower federal bench, 51 percent of judges were appointed by Republicans while Democrats selected 49 percent when Bush entered the Oval Office. Following the end of his first term, Republican appointees will control a majority of the 13 circuit courts.

“What you see is what you get. Based on our formula, we can expect to see more conservative court decisions from trial judges if Bush is re-elected in November,” Carp said. “Should Bush not win re-election, both trial and appellate courts will likely turn in another direction.”

Bush has appointed a greater percentage of women and minorities to the bench in comparison to his father and Reagan but less than Clinton.

“Background factors such as party affiliation, race and gender do not affect a majority of cases, because most decisions are made based on the strongest evidence and best precedents,” Carp said. “However, in new areas of law or in cases where the evidence from both sides is equally compelling, the judge’s race, gender and party affiliation play a more significant role.”

The American Judicature Society is a nonpartisan organization with a national membership of judges, lawyers, and non-legally trained citizens interested in the administration of justice. Through research, educational programs, and publications, AJS's primary areas of focus are judicial independence; judicial conduct and ethics; judicial selection; the jury; court administration and public understanding of the Justice System.

For a copy of the article, contact Judicature Editor David Richert at drichert@ajs.org.

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