Publications & Data


Hansford TG, Lucero E, Intawan C, Robles R. The Effect of State Supreme Court Selection Method on Perceptions of the U.S. Supreme Court. Journal of Law and Courts. Forthcoming Forthcoming.

We argue that perceptions of the U.S. Supreme Court can be influenced by stimuli paired with state courts.  People with low levels of court knowledge will exhibit an assimilation effect in which residing in a state with an elected supreme court increases perceptions of the Court being political.  People with greater knowledge will demonstrate a contrast effect, meaning that the Court will be perceived as less political compared to an elected state court.  Using existing survey data and a new survey experiment, we find evidence of the assimilation effect for low-knowledge participants.  Our results imply that fundamental perceptions of the Supreme Court can be shaped by stimuli that are objectively unconnected to the Court, and that many people do not effectively differentiate between different types of court


Hansford TG, Depaoli S, Canelo KS. Estimating the Ideal Points of Organized Interests in Legal Policy Space. Justice System Journal. 2022;43:564–575.

Scholars have been limited in the development and testing of theory regarding the incidence and impact of organized interest advocacy at the U.S. Supreme Court due to a critical measurement issue - the inability to properly locate these interests in the legal policy space in which the Court operates.  We treat the positions articulated by organized interests in their amicus curiae briefs as “votes” in Court cases, allowing us to use an IRT model to estimate the locations of both the 600 most active organized interests and the justices in the same legal policy space.  The resulting ideal point estimates yield substantive implications (e.g., the distribution of organized interest ideal points is slightly to the left of the justices) and lend themselves to a number of future applications to important questions involving judicial politics in the United States.

Part of the Amici Space Project.


Duck-Mayr J, Hansford TG, Spriggs JF II. Agenda Setting and Attention to Precedent in the U.S. Federal Courts. Journal of Law and Courts. 2021;9(2):233–260.
To what degree is judicial agenda setting top-down or bottom-up? Existing studies lack evidence of the frequency or magnitude of these two processes. We conceptualize the judicial agenda as the legal questions/rules receiving judicial attention, measure it using citations to Supreme Court opinions, and estimate vector autoregression models to identify how each level of court initiates or responds to variation in attention to precedent at other levels of the judiciary. The Supreme Court exerts some top-down control, but agenda setting is more often bottom-up, revealing lower courts are more integral to setting the federal judicial agenda than previously understood.


Hansford TG, Depaoli S, Canelo KS. Locating U.S. Solicitors General in the Supreme Court’s Policy Space. Presidential Studies Quarterly. 2019;49(4):855–869.

The U.S. Solicitor General (SG) is the most direct link between the executive branch and the Supreme Court. Spatial models of the SG’s involvement at the Court necessitate locating the SG in the same policy space as the justices. We treat the SG’s positions advocated in amicus curiae briefs as equivalent to votes in these cases and employ an item response model that yields facially valid estimates of the locations of the SGs and justices serving during the Eisenhower through Obama administrations. We find that the ideological orientation of the appointing president has a strong effect on the location of the SGs. There is mixed evidence of SGs orienting themselves toward the median justice on the Court, implying that SGs might also serve a second principal in some cases.

Part of the Amici Space Project.

Hansford TG, Coe C. Linguistic Complexity, Information Processing, and Public Acceptance of Supreme Court Decisions. Political Psychology. 2019;40(2):395–412.
Scholars suggest that judges have an incentive to use complex language to increase support for their decisions. Research on the effects of processing fluency, however, points towards a different set of expectations. Using a survey experiment, we manipulate the complexity of the language conveying two Court decisions and two types of source cue. For the less polarizing of the two decisions, we find that by decreasing processing fluency, complex decision language can both decrease acceptance of the decision and diminish the importance of source cues in arriving at this judgment. Legalistic terminology, however, increases acceptance.


Canelo KS, Hansford TG, Nicholson SP. The Paradoxical Effect of Speech-Suppressing Appeals to the First Amendment. Journal of Politics. 2018;80(1):309–313.
While the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment prohibits government from imposing adverse consequences for speech it dislikes, in popular discourse this part of the Constitution is often referenced in an attempt to suppress nongovernmental criticism of controversial statements. To assess whether inappropriate, speech-suppressing appeals to the First Amendment cause intolerance of criticism or, unintentionally, promote tolerance of adverse responses to controversial statements, we employ a survey experiment and find evidence of the latter effect. Appeals to the Free Speech Clause that seek to suppress speech have the unintended consequence of increasing public tolerance for speech. Invoking freedom of speech is what matters, not the specific direction of the appeal. Click here for replication data provided at the JOP Dataverse
Hansford TG, Intawan C, Nicholson SP. Snap Judgment: Implicit Perceptions of a (Political) Court. Political Behavior. 2018;40(1):127–147.
Do people fundamentally perceive the Supreme Court as a political institution? Despite the central importance of this question to theories of public evaluations of the Court and its decisions, it remains largely unanswered. To this end, we develop a new, implicit measure of political perceptions of the Court. This new measure relies on a categorization task wherein respondents quickly associate political or non-political attributes with the Supreme Court relative to institutions that are high or low in politicization. We find that the public implicitly perceives the Court as less political than Congress (high politicization) and more political than traffic court (low politicization) and that this measure is distinct from self-reported (explicit) perceptions of politicization. Finally, we find that implicit perceptions have a distinct effect on predicting diffuse support for the court and specific support for one of two Court decisions.


Hansford TG. Vertical Stare Decisis. In: The Oxford Handbook of U.S. Judicial Behavior. Oxford University Press; 2017.
This chapter critically assesses the current state of the literature on vertical stare decisis. It begins with a consideration of how stare decisis does, or does not, fit with the principal–agent framework that is often used as a starting point for theories of the relationship between high and low courts. Various approaches to testing the existence of vertical stare decisis and the factors that might condition the strength of this constraint are then addressed. While there is a good deal of evidence that is consistent with the claim that High Court precedent constrains lower court decision-making, this evidence is not as conclusive as it might first appear. There is also ambiguity regarding the precise causal mechanism at work. This chapter then considers recent scholarship focused on the potential for bottom-up influences on the operation of precedent in a judicial hierarchy.


Gomez BT, Hansford TG. Economic Retrospection and the Calculus of Voting. Political Behavior. 2015;37(2):309–329.
Despite the plethora of studies demonstrating that economic perceptions affect how a person votes, relatively little is known about how economic perceptions affect whether individuals will vote. Using the calculus of voting as our starting point, we develop a simple, but novel, hypothesis regarding the influence of sociotropic evaluations on voter turnout. We argue that this relationship will be curvilinear, with particularly negative and particularly positive evaluations of the economy increasing the likelihood of voting. Using an instrumental variables approach with individual-level data from eight recent U.S. presidential elections, we find that economic evaluations affect the decision to vote in the curvilinear manner hypothesized, but—counter to existing theory—only when there is not an incumbent president seeking reelection.
Hansford TG, Gomez BT. Reevaluating the Sociotropic Economic Voting Hypothesis. Electoral Studies. 2015;39:15–25.
One of the canonical causal claims in political science links individuals’ evaluations of the national economy with their votes. Yet there are reasons to expect that these economic perceptions are endogenous to vote choice, meaning that existing cross-sectional models cannot provide a valid test of the causal retrospective voting claim. Using an instrumental variables approach, we assess the effect of sociotropic evaluations on the decision to vote for the incumbent president or his party’s candidate in eight recent U.S. presidential elections. In contrast with prior work, our results reveal that while there is a correlation between sociotropic evaluations and vote choice, individuals’ subjective evaluations only exert a causal effect on votes when there is not an incumbent president on the ballot. These results suggest that, when incumbents are on the ballot, individuals’ economic perceptions are particularly clouded by appraisals of the incumbent and thus do not operate as an exogenous influence on votes.