Working Papers

Discrimination in Public Accommodations (with Emily A. West) (Working Paper)

Identification difficulties have to date precluded the estimation of causal effects from statutes prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. These difficulties include the failure to isolate measures of outcomes plausibly attributable to discrimination in public accommodations, the omnibus structure of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the endogeneity of state statutes to state-level covariates. We leverage the Supreme Court’s 1883 strike of the public accommodations provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1875, along with ex ante variation in state-level statutes, to identify the impact of a federal statute protecting access to public accommodations. Using repeated medical exams of Union Army and U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) veterans, and a series of discontinuity and placebo designs, we find that the Court’s ruling led to large relative weight losses for USCT veterans in states without state-level statutes, and to corresponding relative weight gains for Union Army veterans in the same states.

Did Money Buy Republican Success? (Working Paper)

This paper uses the Supreme Court’s ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to identify the causal impact of money in elections. Estimates consistently suggest that the Buckley-induced removal of state limits on campaign spending led to increased Republican voteshares, increased Republican candidate entry, and decreased Democratic candidate entry in state legislative and gubernatorial elections in states affected by the ruling, and to both increased Republican House voteshares and the election of more conservative freshman Republican House incumbents in states both affected by the ruling and holding concurrent federal and state elections. These findings may provide a causal underpinning for the observed correlations between increased campaign spending, increased Republican electoral success, and increased Republican conservatism since the mid-1970s.



A Mere Machine: The Supreme Court, Congress, and American Democracy (Yale University Press, 2013)

Introductory textbooks on American government tell us that the Supreme Court is independent from the elected branches, and that independent courts better protect rights than their more deferential counterparts. But are the textbooks correct? A Mere Machine reports evidence indicating that the Supreme Court is in fact extraordinarily deferential to congressional preferences in its constitutional rulings. Cross-national evidence also suggests that the rights protections we enjoy in the United States may be largely due to the fact that we do not have an independent Supreme Court. This evidence indicates that we might have even greater rights protections, were we to prohibit our federal courts from exercising judicial review altogether. These findings suggest that constitutional designers would be wise to heed Thomas Jefferson’s advice to “let mercy be the character of the law-giver, but let the judge be a mere machine.”

Votes Without Leverage: Women in American Electoral Politics, 1920-1970 (Cambridge University Press, The Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions, 1998)

Votes Without Leverage investigates the competition to mobilize women’s votes after constitutional female suffrage. Experimental studies indicate that there is a significant social component to turnout and partisanship. This work suggests that competition to mobilize votes through social networks will be much like competition to mobilize consumers of services offered through networks (e.g., telephone networks). Markets for networked services are generally marked by imperfect competition, with early entrants having significant advantages over later entrants. Likewise, the decision by the National League of Women Voters (the former female suffrage organization) in 1923 to cede the market in women’s votes to the party organizations may have followed from its necessarily late entry into this imperfectly competitive market.


The Economic Origins of Entrenched Judicial Review (Studies in American Political Development 29:1 (April 2015): 1-22)

This article proposes a new explanation for the origins of entrenched judicial review, or judicial review supported by supermajority constitutional amendment requirements. The explanation is based on ex ante levels of economic inequality: Where economic inequality is higher, economic elites have more to lose from the advent of majority rule. These elites will have both greater incentives and greater ability to resist or check institutions responsive to popular majorities. We may then be more likely to see the adoption of less democratically responsive institutions, like entrenched judicial review, where more unequal wealth and income distributions are threatened by majority rule. The theory is consistent with the qualitative historical record from several former British colonies, including that of the United States. It also finds considerable support in an econometric analysis of the presence of entrenched judicial review in the first year of continuous democracy for those former European colonies that had become democracies by 2008, where pre-independence European mortality rates are used as a proxy for pre-independence economic inequality. These findings suggest that the adoption of entrenched judicial review in democracies may have been motivated at least in part because of its anticipated protection for higher levels of economic inequality.

Confirmation Bias in the United States Supreme Court Judicial Database (with Michael J. Woodruff) (Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization 29:2 (April 2013): 414-460)

We ask whether the widely used direction of decision and direction of vote variables in the United States Supreme Court Judicial Database (USSCJD) are contaminated by confirmation bias, or have been affected by expectations about the likely effects of judicial preferences on case outcomes. Using a sample of generally comparable cases, we find evidence that the assignment of issue codes to these cases, codes that govern the subsequent assignment of “direction” to the Court’s judgments, is conditional on both case disposition and the known preferences of the deciding court, in the direction predicted by the hypothesis of confirmation bias. We also find that the USSCJD direction variables overstate the effect of judicial preferences and understate the effect of congressional preferences on case outcomes, relative to objectively coded measures of the Court’s judgments.

The Will of the Congress (Michigan State Law Review 3 (Fall 2010): 729-739)

The historical narrative of Barry Friedman’s The Will of the People is strongly suggestive of a Supreme Court that responds to majoritarian preferences. Friedman’s narrative, however, leaves open the question of the source of this responsiveness. An analysis of the Court’s decisions in cases involving the constitutional review of federal statutes from the Warren through the Rehnquist Courts suggests that the Court responds to the institutional incentives created by congressional leverage over the Court, rather than to public opinion per se. These findings suggest the importance of institutional rules for incentivizing judges into responsiveness to majoritarian preferences.

Ducking Trouble: Congressionally Induced Selection Bias in the Supreme Court’s Agenda (with Barry Friedman) (Journal of Politics 71:2 (April 2009): 574-592)

Existing studies of congressional influence on Supreme Court decision-making have largely failed to recognize the fact that the  Court has a discretionary docket. We model the effects of congressional preferences on the certiorari decision, and find strong  evidence that the Court’s constitutional agenda is systematically influenced by Congress. The Court is significantly less likely to review cases when there are large congressionally-induced deviations between what the Court would like to do, and what it can do in its final rulings. This selection bias in the Court’s docket can lead to considerable uncertainty in estimating the effects of congressional constraint on the Court’s final decisions, including a failure to properly reject the null hypothesis of no constraint.

Pulling Punches: Congressional Constraints on the Supreme Court’s Constitutional Rulings, 1987-2000 (with Barry Friedman) (Legislative Studies Quarterly 31:4 (November 2006): 533-562)

To date, no study has found evidence that the U.S. Supreme Court is constrained by Congress in its constitutional decisions. We address the selection bias inherent in previous studies with a statute-centered, rather than a case-centered, analysis, following all congressional laws enacted between 1987 and 2000. We uncover considerable congressional constraint in the Court’s constitutional rulings. In particular, we find that the probability that the Rehnquist Court would strike a liberal congressional statute rose between 47% and 288% as a result of the 1994 congressional elections, depending on the legislative model used.

Electoral Institutions and the Evolution of Partisan Conventions, 1880-1940 (with Bumba Mukherjee) (American Politics Research 34:3 (May 2006 ): 368-398)

We examine the geographical variation in partisanship levels across the United States between 1880 and 1940 and suggest that the introduction of three electoral laws during this time period—party registration, primaries and secret ballots—can help to explain this variation. We suggest that the introduction of party registration increased the observability of partisan behavior, which in turn increased relative partisanship in the states wherein party registration was introduced. Conversely, primaries and secret ballots reduced the observability of partisan actions, which consequently weakened relative partisanship.  We test these theoretical predictions on aggregate levels of split-ticket voting across the United States between 1880 and 1940, and find considerable support in time-series cross-section (TSCS) estimates of the effects of electoral institutions on levels of partisanship, support undiminished after corrections for endogeneity and selection bias.

Electing the Supreme Court (with Barry Friedman) (Indiana Law Journal 78: 1 (Winter/Spring 2003): 123-151)

This article explores the relationship between the ideological distance between Congress and the Court, and the Court’s propensity to strike congressional statutes. We examine two kinds of ideological distance: that between the Court and the enacting Congress, and that between the Court and the sitting Congress. We find that, while some might expect the Court to be more likely to overturn statutes from ideologically distant enacting Congresses, there is no evidence of this effect in the data we employ. However, we do find that the Court is quite sensitive to the ideological composition of the sitting Congress: the closer the Congress, the more likely it is that the Court will overturn congressional statutes.

Partisanship as a Social Convention (Rationality and Society 13: 4 (November 2001): 462-504)

Existing  research  models  partisanship  as a function  of  either running tallies of party performance evaluations or emotional identifications with parties. However, these models are arguably insufficient to account for the variation in the propensity to act on behalf of a party. This article develops and tests a model of parti­sanship as a social convention. The decision to act on behalf of a party is modeled as an asymmetric n-person coordination game with multiple equilibria, where the payoffs from being coordinated on acts of partisanship are higher than the payoffs from coordi­ nation on abstention if the costs of those actions are sufficiently low. Given that such a coordination game will be easier to solve where acts of partisanship are more public, we should see a greater incidence of partisanship in states with laws providing for publicly available party registration, relative to states without such laws. The model is tested using data from the 1984–96 American National Election Studies merged with data on states’ party regis­tration laws. Several measures of partisanship are shown to be responsive to the presence of laws providing for party registration, controlling for other factors known to affect the propensity to be partisan.

Women, Policy, and Party, 1920-1970: A Rational Choice Approach (Studies in American Political Development 11:2 (Fall 1997): 292-325)

The Political Consequences of Suffrage Exclusion: Organizations, Institutions, and the Electoral Mobilization of Women (Social Science History 20:1 Spring 1996: 97-132)