Executive Branch Socialization and Deference on the U.S. Supreme Court


  • Rob Robinson

  • The author wishes to thank Jeff Yates, Brett Curry, and the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions on previous versions of this article. Please direct all correspondence to Rob Robinson, Department of Government, HHB 405, 1720 2nd Ave S, Birmingham, AL 35294; e-mail: robrr7@uab.edu.


Are Supreme Court justices with prior experience in the executive branch more likely to defer to the president in separation of powers cases? While previous research has suggested that such background may signal judicial policy preferences but does not shape them, I argue here that institutional socialization may indeed increase future judicial deference to the president. Using an original data set of executive power cases decided between 1942 and 2007, I model justice-votes to test this hypothesis. I uncover three noteworthy findings: (1) a clear correlation between prior executive branch experience and support for the executive branch, (2) the degree of this support intensifies as executive branch tenure increases, a finding congruent with a socialization hypothesis, and (3) contrary to received wisdom, executive powers cases possess a clear ideological dimension, in line with the expectations of the attitudinal model.