From Ohio State University
Presidents' success fleeting when naming Supreme Court justices
COLUMBUS, Ohio - When a president appoints a new justice to the U.S. Supreme Court, he hopes that the justice will support his policies long into the future.
But a new study of Supreme Court justices appointed by presidents from Franklin D. Roosevelt through Bill Clinton showed that presidents are successful only in the short term.
While the votes of justices initially tend to agree with the president who appointed them, within 10 years their votes no longer closely reflect the president's policy views.
"The success of presidents at naming justices who will support their views is somewhat fleeting," said Richard Timpone, co-author of the study and assistant professor of political science at Ohio State University.
Of the 11 presidents studied, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton did best at naming justices who followed their policy preferences, the study found.
Timpone conducted the study with lead author Jeffrey Segal of the State University of New York at Stony Brook and Robert Howard of Georgia State University. Their results were published in a recent issue of the journal Political Research Quarterly.
For the study, the researchers first conducted a random mail survey of political scientists who specialized in the presidency. They asked the respondents to rate the presidents from Roosevelt to Clinton on a scale of 1 to 100 on their liberalism in economic policy and social policy.
The researchers then examined the voting records of all justices appointed by those 11 presidents, specifically in civil liberties cases and economic cases.
Finally, Timpone and his colleagues analyzed how closely the votes cast by justices matched the liberal or conservative views of the president who appointed them.
"Overall, the results showed presidents do reasonably well in appointing justices who seem to follow their policy preferences,Timpone said. "But when you look closer, the success of presidents occurs very early in the career of the justices."
In economic cases, the researchers found a relationship between the votes of the justices and the views of the president who appointed them for the first ten terms of the justices' careers(each term lasting a year). But after 10 terms, the justices' votes no longer were related to the views of the president.
In the area of civil liberties, presidents fare even worse: there is no relation between a justice's votes and presidential views after only four terms on the bench, Timpone said.
Presidents Reagan and Clinton seemed to have the most success in choosing justices who reflected their views, according to the study. But based on other results of the study, Clinton's success may decline the longer his justices are on the bench.
Reagan was helped because one of his appointments was promoting William Rehnquist to Chief Justice. This appointment had less uncertainty, since Rehnquist already had a track record on the bench as an associate justice.
Presidents Dwight Eisenhower and Harry Truman had some of the worst records at appointing justices who shared their views.
"Truman appears to have been correct in bemoaning his Supreme Court appointments, at least in the realm of civil liberties," Timpone said. "Each of his appointees voted significantly more conservatively than we would have expected."
On the other hand, Eisenhower named two justices - Earl Warren and William Brennan - who voted significantly more liberal than expected given Eisenhower's views.
The results suggest that while presidents do enjoy some success in naming Supreme Court justices, their impact may not be long lasting.
"The justices tend to shift from their positions over time, and some move in directions that may not please the presidents who appointed them," Timpone said.