For the most current drafts see http://www.amysemet.com/research
Administrative Adjudication: A Study of the Adjudicatory Process (book manuscript in progress)
Administrative adjudication can take many forms and administrative agencies have differing internal processes in how they adjudicate cases. In this book/multiple article project, I look at how internal processes at agencies can dictate outcomes. In particular, I undertake a comprehensive examination of the adjudicatory processes of the National Labor Relations Board, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Federal Trade Commission, examining labor, patent, securities, environmental and data privacy policies. I hope to offer insights into which institutional configuration of agencies can best effectuate congressional purpose.
An Empirical Analysis of Politicization in Immigration Adjudications” (with Catherine Kim, UNC Law) , forthcoming in Georgetown Law Journal (2019-2020)
This Article presents the first comprehensive empirical assessment of the extent to which Immigration Judges (IJs), the administrative officials charged with adjudicating whether a given noncitizen will be deported from the country, decide cases on the basis of an Administration’s political preferences rather than an independent assessment of the legal merits of a given case. We constructed an original dataset of over 800,000 removal proceedings decided between January 2001 and November 2018. Using logistical regression and controlling for other variables, we found that the Administration in control at the time of decision is a statistically significant predictor of removal rates. These results suggest that the current Executive-in-Chief exercises a profound influence over removal decisions, undermining the assumption of independence among administrative adjudicators.
“How Do Judicial Elections Affect Low-Salience Decisions?” with Brandice Canes-Wrone and Thomas Clark, Journal on Empirical Legal Studies 15:4 (Dec. 2018)
Scholarship finds that in states with judicial elections, public opinion affects judges’ decisions on hot-button campaign issues such as the death penalty or marijuana legalization. Yet the literature leaves open the question of how public opinion affects judicial decisions on less salient issues, which not only dominate the dockets of state supreme courts but also encompass areas of major legal and policy significance. We consider one such issue that infrequently emerges in judicial campaigns, environmental law. Specifically, we collect an original dataset of over 5000 judicial votes on nearly 1,000 cases heard in 40 state supreme courts from 1990-2014. We find that for the dataset as a whole, there is not a significant effect of public opinion on judicial decisions in any of the major judicial selection systems. However, in the few states in which environmental issues have been the subject of campaign attack ads, we find evidence of such a relationship during the years following the ads. These results contribute to a growing literature that suggests elections can reduce judicial independence from public opinion.
"An Empirical Examination of Agency Statutory Interpretation," Minnesota Law Review 103:5 (April 2019)
How do administrative agencies interpret statutes? Despite the theoretical treatment scholars offer on how agencies construe statutes, far less is known empirically about administrative statutory interpretation even though agencies play a critical role in interpreting statutes. This Article looks behind the black box of agency statutory interpretation to review how administrative agencies use canons and other tools of statutory interpretation to decide cases. Surveying over 7,000 cases heard by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) from 1993-2016,
"Specialized Judges in Patent Law: A Review of the Patent Pilot Program's Impact on Appellate Reversal Rates at the Five-Year Mark," Boston College Law Review, Volume 30:2) (Feb. 2019)
Congress set up a ten-year pilot project to change the way patent cases are heard in the federal courts. In the new system, fourteen district courts act as specialized patent courts and decide more than their share of patent cases. Now that the five-year mark passed, my paper examines what impact the pilot project had in influencing patent law doctrine and court decision-making generally.
"Predicting Deference in Appellate Court Cases"
I use the case of the NLRB to set forth theoretical explanations of when the appellate courts will defer to an agency. Using a database of over 1,300 appellate court cases, I then evaluate my hypotheses statistically to assess the extent to which political, economic, sociological and legal characteristics of decisions impact the court’s decision whether or not to defer to the agency or whether to issue a counter-ideological ruling.
“Political Decision Making at the National Labor Relations Board: An Empirical Examination of the Board’s Decisions through the Clinton and Bush Years,” Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law 37:2 (Spring 2016)
Employing an original dataset of almost 3,000 NLRB decisions from the Clinton and Bush years (1993-2007), this paper presents one of the few recent studies of voting patterns at the NLRB on unfair labor practice disputes. I find that the propensity of a panel reaching a decision that favors labor increases monotonically with each additional Democrat added to the panel during much of the time frames under study. Homogenous Republican panels – increasingly prevalent in recent years –behave in especially partisan ways. I further find that political actors – such as the Congress, the President and the appellate courts – fail to have a direct impact on NLRB unfair labor practice decisions; rather, the decision of the lower court Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the partisan ideology of the Board have the most impact in influencing whether the NLRB rules for or against labor.
“Bush v. Gore in the American Mind: Reflections and Survey Results on the Tenth Anniversary of the Decision Ending the 2000 Election Controversy” (with Nathaniel Persily and Stephen Ansolabehere), published in ELECTION REFORM IN THE UNITED STATES AFTER BUSH V. GORE, edited by R. Michael Alvarez and Bernard Grofman (Cambridge University Press 2014) (peer-reviewed)
This book chapter of a peer reviewed book from Cambridge University Press examines public opinion on the Bush v. Gore case ten years later, finding that both the respondent’s race as well as their feelings toward President George Bush motivate their lingering feelings on the Bush v. Gore decision The article also concludes that opinion on Bush v. Gore also impacts approval of and confidence in the Supreme Court overall.ese results contribute to a growing literature that suggests elections can reduce judges’ independence from public opinion.
"District Court Compliance with Appellate Court Rulings"
Judicial politics scholars have generally paid scant attention to empirically examining the inner workings of the lower level federal district courts. This paper attempts to contribute to the debate concerning district court decision-making by analyzing how district courts comply with rulings made by appellate courts. Specifically, scholars in recent years have used advances in textual analysis to come up with theories on how opinion content and clarity can induce compliance in lower level judicial bodies. Most of these studies analyze how opinion clarity of the United States Supreme Court decisions can induce compliance among appellate courts. I apply these research techniques to ascertain the process at the step below at the district court level.