Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2022

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Political Science

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Type



How do judicial institutions and the choices judges make affect how the law develops? And how does existing law in turn affect judges' decisions? In this dissertation, I address important aspects of both of these fundamental questions of judicial politics. First I explore why courts create inconsistent legal doctrine. Because judges cannot describe how the rules they craft will apply to every conceivable factual variation in cases, they must describe them more abstractly. I use a social choice theoretic model to show that absent unrealistic restrictions on judges' preferences, decision making on collegial courts in this context can result in inconsistent doctrine. I then examine the constraining effect of law at the US Supreme Court. I generate a measure of the legal status quo, or the outcome implied in cases heard by the Court from its past precedents. I show how to control for the justices' own contributions to the legal status quo to identify the law's constraining effect, and find it exerts a statistically reliable constraining effect on the decisions of a supermajority of Supreme Court justices. The methodology for this study required extending a class of models from the machine learning literature, Gaussian process models, which I also devote a chapter to.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

James F. Spriggs

Committee Members

Lee Epstein