Bureaucratic Decisions and the Composition of the Lower Courts


Brandice Canes-Wrone is Associate Professor of Political Science, Northwestern University, Scott Hall, 601 University Place, Evanston, Illinois 60208


I delineate necessary conditions for the ideological composition of the federal courts to influence bureaucratic decisions independently of lawsuits and test for the relationship with data on the implementation of wetlands policy. Examining 18,331 decisions by the Army Corps of Engineers over whether to issue a permit for the development of wetlands between 1988 and 1996, I analyze whether these decisions were influenced by the composition of the appellate and district courts. The results indicate that judicial ideology significantly affects bureaucratic decision making. Specifically, a standard deviation increase in the liberalism of the lower courts decreases the probability that the Corps will grant a permit by 14%, which is comparable to the effects of long-recognized determinants of administrative behavior.