Electoral Cycles among US Courts of Appeals Judges

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We find field evidence consistent with experimental studies that document the contexts and characteristics making individuals more susceptible to priming. Just before US presidential elections, judges on the US courts of appeals double the rate at which they dissent and vote along partisan lines. Increases are accentuated for judges with less experience and in polarized environments. During periods of national unity—wartime, for example—judges suppress dissents, especially if they have less experience or are in polarized environments. We show that the dissent rate increases gradually from 6 percent to nearly 12 percent in the quarter before an election and returns immediately to 6 percent after the election. If highly experienced professionals making common-law precedent can be politically primed, it raises questions about the perceived impartiality of the judiciary.

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