Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

More on AFJ Methodology

A few comments in so far on my earlier post criticizing the AFJ for their charge that seven out of thirteen circuit courts of appeal were controlled by the “extreme right,” which turned out to be based on a quick nose-counting of judges according to party of appointing president.

One comment came from my friend Jon. Jon agreed on the major flaws of the AFJ statement, but disagreed somewhat with my conclusion. He writes:

The real point liberals and leftists should take away from this “study” is that, after a 22-year period in which the GOP controlled the presidency for all but 8 of those years, and during which a GOP-led Senate aggressively refused to confirm Clinton appointees, the federal bench is lopsidedly republican nominated, and almost certainly more conservative than the median and/or mean voter.

Jon’s conclusion sounds reasonable enough, and is a reasonable and principled interpretation of both the Nation article and my critique. His comments inspired me to do a little more research, though, which suggests that his alternate conclusion is incorrect.

Further Number-Parsing

Armed once again with my handy chart from AFJ, I set out to see, using their criteria (party of appointing president), exactly how unbalanced the judiciary is. I counted noses. The breakdown by circuit is as follows (the first number being Republican appointees, the second Democrat):

DC: 4-4

1st: 4-2 Republican

2nd: 4-8 Democrat

3rd: 6-6

4th: 7-4 Republican

5th: 10-5 Republican

6th: 3-6 Democrat

7th: 8-3 Republican

8th: 8-3 Republican

9th: 7-17 Democrat

10th: 5-5

11th: 6-5 Republican

Fed: 8-4 Republican

Total: 80 Republican appointees, 72 Democrat appointees

Now, let me reiterate my warning (set out in the prior post) that the validity of this test is rather dubious, given the weak correlation between appointing party and judicial rulings, and the inexplicable omission of senior judges from the AFJ data. But, as these numbers show, even accepting the AFJ standard as valid, the Republican advantage in appointed judges is a whopping 53% to 47%. Looks balanced to me. (And this after Republican presidents were in office 14 of the last 22 years.)


Of course, the AFJ isn’t interested in disseminating that kind of information. They’re an advocacy group, and like all advocacy groups, they take positions and work for changes. But my round 2 analysis leaves me deeply disappointed in their methods. Yesterday, I thought they were a liberal group with sloppy techniques. Today, I think they’re a liberal group whose sloppy techniques disguise the fact that their issue is, per their own sort of test, a non-issue.

And This is Bad for Liberals

The funny thing is, I’m not all that opposed to some of the AFJ’s ideas. I don’t think Thomas has shown himself to be a particularly good Justice, and if Estrada turns out to be Thomas-like, I think a court would be the worse for it. Even most conservatives don’t really like Thomas. (Sure, they tolerate him because he votes right, but don’t tell me they wouldn’t generally prefer an opinion from Scalia or Kennedy, or maybe Rehnquist.) AFJ and The Nation had a valid argument, and they went and wasted it with bad statistics. That’s bad for conservatives because it spreads misinformation. It’s bad for liberals because it muddles the issues they want to bring out. It’s bad for everyone because it directs the debate in unprofitable directions.

September 25, 2002 - Posted by | Uncategorized

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: