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Network Analysis and the Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedents at the U.S. Supreme Court

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2017

James H. Fowler
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, University of California, San Diego, Social Sciences Building 383, 9500 Gilman Drive #0521, La Jolla, CA 92093-0521. e-mail: jhfowler@ucsd.edu (corresponding author)
Timothy R. Johnson
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, 1414 Social Sciences Building, 267 19th Ave. South, Minneapolis, MN 55455. e-mail: trj@umn.edu
James F. Spriggs II
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Washington University in St. Louis, Campus Box 1063, One Brookings Drive, St Louis, MO 63130. e-mail: jspriggs@artsci.wustl.edu
Sangick Jeon
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, Stanford University, 616 Serra Street, Encina Hall West, Room 100, Stanford, CA 94305-6044. e-mail: sjeon@stanford.edu
Paul J. Wahlbeck
Affiliation:
Department of Political Science, George Washington University, 1922 F Street, N.W. Suite 401, Washington, DC 20052. e-mail: wahlbeck@gwu.edu

Abstract

We construct the complete network of 26,681 majority opinions written by the U.S. Supreme Court and the cases that cite them from 1791 to 2005. We describe a method for using the patterns in citations within and across cases to create importance scores that identify the most legally relevant precedents in the network of Supreme Court law at any given point in time. Our measures are superior to existing network-based alternatives and, for example, offer information regarding case importance not evident in simple citation counts. We also demonstrate the validity of our measures by showing that they are strongly correlated with the future citation behavior of state courts, the U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the U.S. Supreme Court. In so doing, we show that network analysis is a viable way of measuring how central a case is to law at the Court and suggest that it can be used to measure other legal concepts.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © The Author 2007. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Political Methodology 

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