UH Law Library's Blog

November 13, 2009

How Many 5-4 Supreme Court Decisions Since 1953?

Filed under: Electronic Resources — Tags: , — uhlawlibrary @ 4:57 pm

Harold Spaeth is Research Professor of Law at Michigan State University College of Law and Emeritus Professor of Political Science at Michigan State.  He has collected data on U.S. Supreme Court decisions since the 1980s, and continues to release statistics for each new Term.  With a grant from the National Science Foundation Prof. Spaeth produced a dataset that would include and classify every single vote by a Supreme Court justice in all argued cases over a five-decade period.  The Supreme Court Database is available online and contains downloadable datasets about all Court cases since 1953 and interactive search tools that allow users to design and run their own statistical analysis or look up data about individual cases by case name or citation.  Set to the right parameters, the Database churns out answers for questions like “How many 5-4 majority decisions has the Supreme Court had since 1953?” ANSWER: 1,099.  The year with the most 5-4 majority decisions (42) was 1986.

With 247 pieces of information for each case, the database is broken down into six categories: (1) identification variables (e.g., citations and docket numbers); (2) background variables (e.g., how the Court took jurisdiction, origin and source of the case, the reason the Court agreed to decide it); (3) chronological variables (e.g., the date of decision, term of Court, natural court); (4) substantive variables (e.g., legal provisions, issues, direction of decision); (5) outcome variables (e.g., disposition of the case, winning party, formal alteration of precedent, declaration of unconstitutionality); and (6) voting and opinion variables (e.g., how the individual justices voted, their opinions and interagreements).

Data can be downloaded as either case-centered or justice-centered in 7 formats including Excel or comma delimited.



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