The Revolving Door in Judicial Politics: Former Clerks and Agenda Setting on the U.S. Supreme Court

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Abstract:

We examine the role of former clerks to justices of the U.S. Supreme Court on the Court's agenda setting process. Using both existing and original data, we find that when a former clerk is the attorney on either a cert petition or an amicus brief, the Court is more likely to hear a case, compared to advocacy by a non-former clerk, ceteris paribus. To help explain these patterns, we draw on the broader interest group literature on ``revolving door'' politics. We argue that the most plausible mechanisms are either that former clerks are more effective advocates at the agenda setting stage due to their relationships with justices and knowledge of the Court's processes, or that their presence in a case signals its importance to the Court. Alternatively, former clerks may be better at recognizing the cases that the Court is likely to grant ex ante, and thus choose to select into such cases.  While we cannot definitively disentangle these competing mechanisms, the strong patterns in the data suggest that the importance of the revolving door in judicial politics extends quite broadly into the domain of agenda setting, and is thus worthy of further investigation.

Last updated on 05/26/2021