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Expertise, Experience, and Ideology on Specialized Courts: The Case of the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit


  • We would like to thank Larry Baum, Rich Pacelle, and Nathan Cristler for their close readings of this manuscript and thoughtful comments that greatly improved our drafts. Further, Carroll Seron and the anonymous reviewers have improved our work considerably. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the 2008 Southern Political Science Association Conference in New Orleans, where Stefanie Lindquist provided valuable feedback. Please direct all correspondence to Banks Miller at the School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas, 800 W. Campbell Rd., Richardson, TX 75080; e-mail:


What roles do prior expertise and accumulated experience play in shaping ideologically consistent voting on a specialized court? Using a dataset of obviousness patent cases from the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit spanning 1997–2007, we show that prior expertise enhances the influence of ideology on judicial decisionmaking, but that accumulated experience does not. In addition, we build on previous work and show that ideology is a factor in decisionmaking in technical areas of law, contrary to the received wisdom on patent cases.