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In the Mirror of the Justices: Sources of Greatness on the Supreme Court

Gregory A. Caldeira
Political Behavior
Vol. 10, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988), pp. 247-266
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/586182
Page Count: 20
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In the Mirror of the Justices: Sources of Greatness on the Supreme Court
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Abstract

Few political scientists have undertaken systematic study of the determinants of greatness on the Supreme Court. In this article, I formulate and test a series of competing explanations for judicial eminence in a multivariate model. For the measure of performance on the Court, I use Blaustein and Mersky's ratings of the justices. The alternative explanations include social backgrounds, occupational experiences, political connections, experiences on the Court, and region of residence. Neither occupational experiences nor political connections have an appreciable impact on the level of achievement a justice reaches. Thus, contrary to one of the most popular hypotheses, previous judicial experience does not give an individual any advantage. Instead, in much greater measure, experiences on the Supreme Court and certain social backgrounds differentiate among the various levels of performance. In particular, the statistical analysis indicates the centrality and potency of parental status, religious affiliation, reputation as a dissenter, the number of opinions written in "landmark" cases, holding the office of chief justice, years of service, and the age of the justice at appointment.

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