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Party Capability and the US Courts of Appeals

Understanding Why the “Haves” Win

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2022

John Szmer*
University of North Carolina–Charlotte
Donald R. Songer
University of South Carolina
Jennifer Bowie
University of Richmond
Contact the corresponding author, John Szmer, at


While many studies have examined party capability theory, few have empirically examined the potential causal mechanisms underlying the theory. We do this by combining quantitative analyses with qualitative data drawn from interviews with over 60 US courts of appeals judges. We find that the “haves,” or repeat players, hire better lawyers and that these lawyers independently contribute to the success of the repeat players. We also find that the advantages of the haves extend to all parties, though to a lesser extent than the advantages enjoyed by the US government. These results remain robust after controlling for ideology.

Research Article
© 2016 by the Law and Courts Organized Section of the American Political Science Association. All rights reserved.

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The authors would like to thank the editor, editorial staff, and the anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments and suggestions. They greatly improved the article. Additionally, we thank Mason DeCamillis for his assistance collecting data.


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