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United States: legal resources: Empirical Legal Research

Empirical Legal Research in US law

Potential Sources for US Supreme Court Studies

"The Supreme Court Database (SCDB) is the definitive source for researchers, students, journalists, and citizens interested in the U.S. Supreme Court. The Database contains over two hundred pieces of information about each case decided by the Court between the 1791 and 2016 terms. Examples include the identity of the court whose decision the Supreme Court reviewed, the parties to the suit, the legal provisions considered in the case, and the votes of the Justices."
"Today's version of the Database houses 247 pieces of information for each case, roughly broken down into six categories: (1) identification variables (e.g., citations and docket numbers); (2) background variables (e.g., how the Court took jurisdiction, origin and source of the case, the reason the Court agreed to decide it); (3) chronological variables (e.g., the date of decision, term of Court, natural court); (4) substantive variables (e.g., legal provisions, issues, direction of decision); (5) outcome variables (e.g., disposition of the case, winning party, formal alteration of precedent, declaration of unconstitutionality); and (6) voting and opinion variables (e.g., how the individual justices voted, their opinions and interagreements)"

"This project involved a friendly interdisciplinary competition to compare the accuracy of the different ways in which legal experts and political scientists assess and predict Supreme Court decision making. Legal scholars and political scientists have engaged in much debate about why the Supreme Court decides cases as it does, but this ongoing discussion is almost always retrospective in nature -- that is, scholars apply competing explanatory frameworks to existing Supreme Court decisions from the recent or not-so-recent past. 

To invert the temporal link, during the Court's 2002 term, we conducted a study where we predicted the outcome of each argued case. Two methods of prediction were used, and we compared their relative accuracy. The results of the study have been published in the May 2004 issue of the Columbia Law Review. The study was also featured in a Symposium in Persepctives on Politics. We contrasted a statistical forecasting model (based on information derived from past Supreme Court decisions and certain characteristics of each pending case) with forecasts provides by legal experts (each of whom is an expert in some area of the Supreme Court's docket and many of whom clerked at the Court)."

United States Judiciary


Please see Oxford University's Guidance on Research data management (RDM) for how you should "organize, structure, store, and care for the information used or generated during [your] research project."

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