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Strategic Auditing in a Political Hierarchy: An Informational Model of the Supreme Court's Certiorari Decisions

  • Charles M. Cameron (a1), Jeffrey A. Segal (a2) and Donald Songer (a3)

Abstract

We examine how the Supreme Court uses signals and indices from lower courts to determine which cases to review. In our game theoretic model, a higher court cues from publicly observable case facts, the known preferences of a lower court, and its decision. The lower court attempts to enforce its own preferences, exploiting ambiguity in cases' fact patterns. In equilibrium, a conservative higher court declines to review conservative decisions from lower courts regardless of the facts of the case or the relative ideology of the judges. But a conservative higher court probabilistically reviews liberal decisions, with the “audit rate” tied, to observable facts and the ideology of the lower court judge. We derive comparative static results and test them with a random sample of search-and-seizure cases appealed to the Burger Court between 1972 and 1986. The evidence broadly supports the model.

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Strategic Auditing in a Political Hierarchy: An Informational Model of the Supreme Court's Certiorari Decisions

  • Charles M. Cameron (a1), Jeffrey A. Segal (a2) and Donald Songer (a3)

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