Earlier this month, the Washington Post blogged about a study purporting to show that President Obama’s judicial appointments are (in the words of the headline) “liberal, but not that liberal.” That may well be a fair characterization; anecdotally, it sounds right. But the study purports to do something much more serious than give an off-the-cuff subjective judgment: the study renders this conclusion as an empirical finding. Specifically, the authors, Professors Robert A. Carp (University of Houston) and Kenneth L. Manning (U. Mass.-Dartmouth) analyzed decisions by district court judges from 1933 to the present in order to render conclusions about the overall liberalism of President Obama’s appointees as compared with the appointees of previous Presidents.
The selection of this sample is dubious; as a result, the study does not demonstrate what it purports to demonstrate. The problem is that the authors chose to analyze the decisions of district court judges, who are the most constrained decisionmakers in the federal judicial hierarchy.