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Taking It to the Next Level: The Elevation of District Court Judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals

Authors


  • A previous version of this article was presented at the 2004 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association. We are appreciative of the helpful comments provided by Nancy Scherer, Stephen Wasby, and the anonymous reviewers.

Elisha Carol Savchak (corresponding author) is a Ph.D. candidate of political science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (savchak@mailbox.sc.edu). Thomas G. Hansford is assistant professor of political science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (hansford@sc.edu). Donald R. Songer is professor of political science, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208 (dsonger@sc.edu). Kenneth L. Manning is associate professor of political science, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, N. Dartmouth, MA 02747-2300 (kmanning@umassd.edu). Robert A. Carp is professor of political science, University of Houston, Houston, TX 77204-3011 (racarp@uh.edu).

Abstract

We address an important aspect of judicial careers: the elevation of judges from the U.S. District Courts to the Courts of Appeals. We argue that the likelihood of a judge being elevated is a function of informational cues and signals regarding the nature of the judge and the judge's compatibility with presidential preferences. We also expect norms involving the intersection between geography and Senate politics to affect a judge's elevation chances. Using data on district court judges appointed between 1946 and 1995, we find that the likelihood of a judge being elevated is a function of the judge's ideological compatibility with the president, the judge's previous ABA rating, and Senate norms involving state “ownership” of appeals court seats. Blunt indicators of policy preferences trump direct signals when presidents decide whom to elevate, leaving judges little control over their career prospects and thus less incentive to slant their decisions in the direction of the president's preferences.

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