Testing Theories of Judicial Behavior Using Networks of Text

Aaron Kaufman and Maya Sen

Abstract: How open are Supreme Court Justices to being persuaded by attorneys at oral argument? We use novel network analyses to explore a novel data set of nearly six thousand Supreme Court oral argument transcripts to understand how and why the Justices speak. In so doing, we little to no evidence that Justices are primarily using oral arguments primarily as an information finding mechanism, and limited evidence that they use it to lobby or to try to influence vulnerable colleagues. Instead, consistent with theories that Justices behave more like political actors with well-formed policy preferences, we find that Justices take opportunities at oral argument to stake out positions. That is, Justices use oral arguments to delineate their potential vote and to indicate to their colleagues the strength of their beliefs. Ultimately, our contributions here challenge the idea that Justices approach oral arguments as information-fathering missions, in turn providing evidence for a decision-making model rooted in more firmly fixed attitudes.