Hostname: page-component-cd4964975-598jt Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2023-03-30T08:55:27.370Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "useRatesEcommerce": false } hasContentIssue true

Attributes beyond Attitudes: Personality Traits on the US Supreme Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

Matthew E. K. Hall*
University of Notre Dame, USA
Gary E. Hollibaugh Jr.
University of Pittsburgh, USA
Jonathan D. Klingler
University of Mississippi, USA
Adam J. Ramey
New York University Abu Dhabi, UAE
Contact the corresponding author, Matthew E. K. Hall, at


Models of behavior on the US Supreme Court almost universally assume that justices’ behavior depends, at least in part, on the characteristics of individual justices. However, few prior studies have attempted to assess these characteristics beyond ideological preferences. In contrast, we apply recent advances in machine learning to develop and validate measures of the Big Five personality traits for Supreme Court justices serving during the 1946 through 2015 terms based on the language in their written opinions. We then conduct an empirical application to demonstrate the importance of these Supreme Court Individual Personality Estimates and discuss their proper use.

© 2021 Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Almlund, Mathilde, Angela Lee Duckworth, James Heckman, and Tim Kautz. 2011. “Personality Psychology and Economics.” In Handbook of the Economics of Education, ed. Eric A. Hanushek, Stephen Machin, and Ludger Woessmann. Amsterdam: North Holland.Google Scholar
Baum, Lawrence. 1998. The Puzzle of Judicial Behavior. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
Baum, Lawrence. 2006. Judges and Their Audiences: A Perspective on Judicial Behavior. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Becker, Theodore R. 1966. “A Survey Study of Hawaiian Judges: The Effect on Decisions of Judicial Role Variations.American Political Science Review 4 (3): 677–80.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Black, Ryan C., Ryan J. Owens, Justin Wedeking, and Patrick C. Wohlfarth. 2016. “The Influence of Public Sentiment on Supreme Court Opinion Clarity.Law and Society Review 50 (3): 703–32.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Black, Ryan C. Forthcoming. The Conscientious Justice: How Justices’ Personality Influences the Law, the Court, and the Constitution. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Bonica, Adam, Adam S. Chilton, Jacob Goldin, Kyle Rozema, and Maya Sen. 2017. “Measuring Judicial Ideology Using Law Clerk Hiring.American Law and Economics Review 19 (1): 129–61.Google Scholar
Bouchard, Thomas J. 1997. “The Genetics of Personality.” In The Handbook of Psychiatric Genetics, ed. Kenneth Blum and Ernest P. Noble, 273–96. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.Google Scholar
Boyd, Christina L., Lee Epstein, and Andrew D. Martin. 2010. “Untangling the Causal Effects of Sex on Judging.American Journal of Political Science 54 (2): 389–411.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Carlson, Keith, Michael A. Livermore, and Daniel Rockmore. 2016. “A Quantitative Analysis of Writing Style on the U.S. Supreme Court.Washington University Law Review 93 (6): 1461–510.Google Scholar
Caspi, Avshalom, B. W. Roberts, and Rebecca L. Shiner. 2005. “Personality Development: Stability and Change.Annual Review of Psychology 56:453–84.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Coffin, Frank M. 1994. On Appeal: Courts, Lawyering, and Judging. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
Collins, Paul M., Jr. 2012. “The Contributions of Psychology to Law and Courts Research.Law and Courts 22 (3): 5–11.Google Scholar
Corley, Pamela C., Robert M. Howard, and David C. Nixon. 2005. “The Supreme Court and Opinion Content: The Use of the Federalist Papers.Political Research Quarterly 58 (2): 329–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Corley, Pamela C., Amy Steigerwalt, and Artemus Ward. 2010. Concurring Opinion Writing on the U.S. Supreme Court. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
Cross, Frank B., and James W. Pennebaker. 2014. “The Language of the Roberts Court.Texas Law Review 73 (1): 853–94.Google Scholar
Danelski, David J. 1961. “The Influence of the Chief Justice in the Decisional Process.” In Courts, Judges, and Politics: An Introduction to the Judicial Process, ed. Walter M. Murphy and C. Herman Pritchett, 6th ed. New York: Random House.Google Scholar
Depue, Richard A., and Paul F. Collins. 1999. “Neurobiology of the Structure of Personality: Dopamine, Facilitation of Incentive Motivation, and Extraversion.Behavioral and Brain Sciences 22 (3): 491–569.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
DeYoung, Colin G., Lena C. Quilty, and Jordan B. Peterson. 2007. “Between Facets and Domains: Ten Aspects of the Big Five.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93 (5): 880–96.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Dietrich, Bryce J., Scott Lasley, Jeffery J. Mondak, Megan L. Remmel, and Joel Turner. 2012. “Personality and Legislative Politics: The Big Five Trait Dimensions among U.S. State Legislators.Political Psychology 33 (2): 195–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Driver, Justin. 2011. “The Finest Legal Mind: A Symposium in Celebration of Justice John Paul Stevens.Georgetown Law Review 99 (5): 1263–78.Google Scholar
Epstein, Lee, and Jack Knight. 1998. The Choices Justices Make. Washington, DC: CQ Press.Google Scholar
Epstein, Lee. 2013. “Reconsidering Judicial Preferences.Annual Review of Political Science 16:11–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Epstein, Lee, William M. Landes, and Richard A. Posner. 2011. “Why (and When) Judges Dissent: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis.Journal of Legal Analysis 3 (1): 101–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Epstein, Lee, and Jeffrey A. Segal. 2000. “Measuring Issue Salience.American Journal of Political Science 44 (1): 66–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Frank, Jerome. 1930. Law and the Modern Mind. New York: Coward McCann.Google Scholar
Funder, David C. 2001. “Personality.Annual Review of Psychology 52:197–221.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Gerber, Alan S., Gregory A. Huber, David Doherty, and Conor M. Dowling. 2011. “The Big Five Personality Traits in the Political Arena.Annual Review of Political Science 14:256–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibson, James L. 1978. “Judges’ Role Orientations, Attitudes, and Decisions: An Interactive Model.American Political Science Review 72 (3): 911–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibson, James L. 1981. “Personality and Elite Political Behavior: The Influence of Self Esteem on Judicial Decision Making.Journal of Politics 43 (1): 104–25.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Gibson, James L. 1983. “From Simplicity to Complexity: The Development of Theory in the Study of Judicial Behavior.Political Behavior 5 (1): 7–49.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Glynn, Adam N., and Maya Sen. 2015. “Identifying Judicial Empathy: Does Having Daughters Cause Judges to Rule for Women’s Issues?American Journal of Political Science 59 (1): 37–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Goldstein, Kenneth. 2003. “Getting in the Door: Sampling and Completing Elite Interviews.PS: Political Science and Politics 35 (4): 669–72.Google Scholar
Gulati, Mitu, and C. M. A. McCauliff. 1998. “On ‘Not’ Making Law.Law and Contemporary Problems 61 (3): 157–227.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Haines, Charles. 1922. “General Observations on the Effects of Personal, Political, and Economic Influences in the Decision of Judges.Illinois Law Review 17:96–116.Google Scholar
Hall, Mark, Eibe Frank, Geoffrey Holmes, Bernhard Pfahringer, Peter Reutemann, and Ian H. Witten. 2009. “The WEKA Data Mining Software: An Update.ACM SIGKDD Explorations Newsletter 11 (1): 10–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Matthew E. K. 2018. What Justices Want: Goals and Personality on the U.S. Supreme Court. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Hall, Matthew E. K., and Alison Higgins Merrill. 2019. “Prestige, Duty, or Fear? Why U.S. Supreme Court Justices Follow Public Opinion.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Southern Political Science Association, Austin, TX, January 17–19.Google Scholar
Hirsch, Harry N. 1981. The Enigma of Felix Frankfurter. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
Hogan, Robert, and Joyce Hogan. 2007. Hogan Personality Inventory Manual. Tulsa, OK: Hogan Assessment Systems.Google Scholar
Hume, Robert J. 2006. “The Use of Rhetorical Sources by the U.S. Supreme Court.Law and Society Review 40 (4): 817–43.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Jacobi, Tonja, and Dylan Schweers. 2017. “Justice, Interrupted: The Effect of Gender, Ideology, and Seniority at Supreme Court Oral Arguments.Virginia Law Review 103: 1379–485.Google Scholar
John, Oliver P., Laura P. Naumann, and Christopher J. Soto. 2008. “Paradigm Shift to the Integrative Big-Five Trait Taxonomy: History, Measurement, and Conceptual Issues.” In Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, ed. Oliver P. John, Richard W. Robins, and Lawrence A. Pervin, 114–58. New York: Guilford Press.Google Scholar
Johnson, Timothy R. 2004. Oral Arguments and Decision Making on the United States Supreme Court. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
Johnson, Timothy R., James F. Spriggs II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2005. “Passing and Strategic Voting on the U.S. Supreme Court.Law and Society Review 39 (2): 349–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Johnson, Timothy R., David R. Stras, and Ryan C. Black. 2014. “Advice from the Bench (Memo) Clerk Influence on Supreme Court Oral Arguments.Marquette Law Review 98:21–42.Google Scholar
Karlan, Pamela S. 2018. “Just Desserts? Public Accommodations, Religious Accommodations, Racial Equality, and Gay Rights.Supreme Court Review 2018:145–77.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
King, Gary, James Honaker, Anne Joseph, and Kenneth Scheve. 2001. “Analyzing Incomplete Political Science Data: An Alternative Algorithm for Multiple Imputation.American Political Science Review 95 (1): 49–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Lasswell, Harold D. 1948. The Structure and Function of Communication in Society. In The Communication of Ideas: Religion and Civilization Series, ed. Lyman Bryson. New York: Harper & Row.Google Scholar
Liptak, Adam. 2010. “The End of an Era, for Court and Nation.” New York Times, April 9.Google Scholar
Lowe, Will, and Kenneth Benoit. 2011. “Estimating Uncertainty in Quantitative Text Analysis.” Scholar
Mairesse, Francois, Marilyn A. Walker, Matthias R. Mehl, and Roger K. Moore. 2007. “Using Linguistic Cues for the Automatic Recognition of Personality in Conversation and Text.Journal of Artificial Intelligence Research 30:457–500.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Maltzman, Forrest James, James F. Spriggs II, and Paul J. Wahlbeck. 2000. Crafting Law on the Supreme Court. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Marshall, Thomas R. 2019. “The Supreme Court as a Representative Institution: Ranking the Justices.” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Washington, DC, August 29–September 1.Google Scholar
Martin, Andrew D., and Kevin M. Quinn. 2002. “Dynamic Ideal Point Estimation via Markov Chain Monte Carlo for the U.S. Supreme Court, 1953–1999.Political Analysis 10 (2): 134–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
McCrae, Robert R., and Oliver P. John. 1992. “An Introduction to the Five-Factor Model and Its Applications.Journal of Personality 60 (2): 175–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Miceli, Thomas J., and Metin M. Cosgel. 1994. “Reputation and Judicial Decision-Making.Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 23 (1): 31–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mischel, Walter, and Yuichi Shoda. 2008. “Toward a Unified Theory of Personality: Integrating Dispositions and Processing Dynamics within the Cognitive-Affective Processing System.” In Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research, ed. Oliver P. John, Richard W. Robins, and Lawrence A. Pervin, 208–41. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
Mondak, Jeffery J. 2010. Personality and the Foundations of Political Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Mondak, Jeffery J., Matthew V. Hibbing, Damarys Canache, Mitchell A. Seligson, and Mary R. Anderson. 2010. “Personality and Civic Engagement: An Integrative Framework for the Study of Trait Effects on Political Behavior.American Political Science Review 104 (1): 85–110.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Moon, Henry. 2001. “The Two Faces of Conscientiousness: Duty and Achievement Striving in Escalation of Commitment Decisions.Journal of Applied Psychology 86 (3): 533–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Owens, Ryan J., and Justin Wedeking. 2011. “Justices and Legal Clarity: Analyzing the Complexity of U.S. Supreme Court Opinions.Law and Society Review 45 (4): 1027–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Owens, Ryan J., Justin Wedeking, and Patrick Wohlfarth. 2013. “How the Supreme Court Alters Opinion Language to Evade Congressional Review.Journal of Law and Courts 1 (1): 35–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pennebaker, James W., and Laura L. King. 1999. “Linguistic Styles: Language Use as an Individual Difference.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1296–312.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Peppers, Todd. 2006. Courtiers of the Marble Palace: The Rise and Influence of the Supreme Court Law Clerk. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Peppers, Todd, and Artemus Ward. 2012. In Chambers: Stories of Supreme Court Law Clerks and Their Justices. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press.Google Scholar
Posner, Richard A. 1993. “What Do Judges and Justices Maximize? (The Same Thing Everyone Else Does).Supreme Court Economic Review 3:1–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pritchett, C. Herman. 1948. The Roosevelt Court. New York: Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ramey, Adam J., Jonathan D. Klingler, and Gary E. Hollibaugh Jr. 2016. “Measuring Elite Personality Using Speech.” Political Science Research and Methods, forthcoming. Scholar
Ramey, Adam J. 2017. More than a Feeling: Personality, Polarization, and the Transformation of the US Congress. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Rosen, Jeffrey. 2007. The Supreme Court: The Personalities and Rivalries That Defined America. New York: Times Books.Google Scholar
Rosenthal, Jeffrey S., and Albert H. Yoon. 2011. “Judicial Ghostwriting: Authorship on the Supreme Court.Cornell Law Review 96:1307–43.Google Scholar
Scherer, Nancy. 2004. “Blacks on the Bench.Political Research Quarterly 119 (4): 655–72.Google Scholar
Schubert, Glendon. 1962. “The 1960 Term of the Supreme Court: A Psychological Analysis.American Political Science Review 56 (1): 90–107.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Segal, Jeffrey A., and Albert D. Cover. 1989. “Ideological Values and the Votes of U.S. Supreme Court Justices.American Political Science Review 83 (2): 557–65.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Segal, Jeffrey A., and Harold J. Spaeth. 2002. The Supreme Court and the Attitudinal Model Revisited. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Spaeth, Harold J., Lee Epstein, Andrew Martin, Jeffrey Segal, Theodore J. Ruger, and Sara C. Benesh. 2014. Supreme Court Database, Version 2014 Release 1. Scholar
Tate, C. Neal. 1981. “Personal Attribute Models of the Voting Behavior of U.S. Supreme Court Justices: Liberalism in Civil Liberties and Economics Decisions, 1946–1978.American Political Science Review 75 (2): 355–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tausczik, Yla R., and James W. Pennebaker. 2010. “The Psychological Meaning of Words: LIWC and Computerized Text Analysis Methods.Journal of Language and Social Psychology 29 (1): 24–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tetlock, Philip E., Jane Bernzweig, and Jack L. Gallant. 1985. “Supreme Court Decision Making: Cognitive Style as a Predictor of Ideological Consistency of Voting.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 48 (5): 1227–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Toobin, Jeffrey. 2012. The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court. New York: Anchor.Google Scholar
Ulmer, S. Sidney. 1970. “Dissent Behavior and the Social Background of Supreme Court Justices.Journal of Politics 32 (3): 580–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ulmer, S. Sidney. 1973. “Social Background as an Indicator to the Votes of Supreme Court Justices in Criminal Cases: 1947–1956 Terms.American Journal of Political Science 17 (3): 622–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wahlbeck, Paul J., James F. Spriggs II, and Forrest Maltzman. 1998. “Marshalling the Court: Bargaining and Accommodation on the Supreme Court.American Journal of Political Science 42 (1): 294–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wahlbeck, Paul J. 1999. “The Politics of Dissents and Concurrences on the U.S. Supreme Court.American Politics Quarterly 27 (4): 488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wahlbeck, Paul J., James F. Spriggs II, and Lee Sigelman. 2002. “Ghostwriters on the Court? A Stylistic Analysis of U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Drafts.American Politics Research 30 (2): 166–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Walker, Thomas G., Lee Epstein, and William J. Dixon. 1988. “On the Mysterious Demise of Consensual Norms in the United States Supreme Court.Journal of Politics 50 (2): 361–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Ward, Artemus, and David L. Weiden. 2006. Sorcerers’ Apprentices: 100 Years of Law Clerks at the United States Supreme Court. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
Way, Lori Beth, and Charles C. Turner. 2006. “Disagreement on the Rehnquist Court: The Dynamics of Supreme Court Concurrence.American Politics Research 34 (3): 1027–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Hall et al. Supplementary material
Download undefined(File)
File 739 KB