Empirical Judiciary Research: Datasets to Jumpstart Your Scholarship

If you’re planning a quantitative investigation of judicial outcomes, judiciary compositions, or judges’ positions in policy spheres, you won’t have to start at square one. Empirical judiciary research is among the most fruitful lines of Empirical Legal Studies (ELS). A number of scholars and universities have launched Internet repositories of judicial data. The Supreme Court (or “Spaeth”), JuRI, and JEDI sites are noteworthy judiciary data portals, and great places to begin your research.

The Supreme Court Database, shepherded by professor Harold J. Spaeth, “contains over two hundred pieces of information about each [Supreme Court] case decided by the Court between the 1946 and 2012 terms.” It enables robust multivariate mining of Supreme Court opinions. Data is available in a variety of common formats (e.g., csv, dta, por, RData).

JuRI, or the Judicial Research Initiative at the University of South Carolina, is a clearinghouse for domestic and international judiciary data. For instance, it contains Songer et al.’s data on U.S. Court of Appeals decisions, derived from a random sample of decades of votes.

The JEDI, or Judicial Elections Data Initiative, site hosts 20 years of biennial data for nearly all state courts of last resort, and some data for state general jurisdiction trial courts. The datasets contain demographic variables (e.g., gender, race) that permit interesting analyses of state court compositions over time.

As you might imagine, additional empirical judiciary datasets are available via scholarly websites, including prominent legal scholars’ webpages. For instance, Lee Epstein et al.’s judicial policy space data is posted to her faculty website. Like the aforementioned sites, you will find supplementary materials (e.g., codebooks, law review articles) next to professor Epstein’s data files. 

Once you’ve retrieved the judicial data you need, feel free to crunch it using the L2 computers, which are loaded with Stata 12 and R. For assistance with your empirical judiciary research, schedule an appointment with Sarah Ryan, Empirical Research Librarian.  

Image: Judges’ Cave, West Rock Park. Yale Digital Collections description: The cave is named after the two judges, Whalley and Goffe, who were among those who sentenced Charles I to death. When Charles II became king after Cromwell, they had to flee England. The Regicides took refuge in this cave during their flight. 

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