Judicial Independence and Opinion Clarity on State Supreme Courts
State Politics & Policy Quarterly, 14(2): 123-141 (2014)
31 Pages Posted: 25 Mar 2013 Last revised: 30 Aug 2017
Date Written: March 23, 2013
We contribute to the literature on judicial independence and performance in the states by analyzing opinion clarity. Written opinions are the primary means of communication for state supreme court justices, and clarity is a core component of judicial performance. Using automated text analysis on a sample of state supreme court opinions from all fifty states, we find that variation in judicial retention systems is not associated with substantively meaningful differences in opinion clarity. Furthermore, elected judges do not seem to produce clearer opinions in salient cases notwithstanding the increased public visibility of those decisions. These results suggest that judges tend to conform to prevailing professional norms despite differing institutional constraints.
Keywords: judicial elections, judicial performance, opinion quality, text analysis
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