Unraveling Scalia: How Influential Was Scalia?

by / / Judges in Action

This week, we’re turning to our Judge Analytics platform to see what statistics we can unearth about Justice Antonin Scalia’s career. After noting his surprising on-the-bench affinity with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg yesterday, we wanted to see how far Scalia’s influence truly extended. Liberals and conservatives acknowledge that Scalia changed the way we talk about law and the Constitution. But how much did his rulings affect the legal landscape? After all, many of his most memorable opinions were dissents.

He was the most influential amongst current justices

In considering Scalia’s legacy, Jeffrey Toobin and Eric Posner both note that Scalia wrote few landmark decisions, which raises questions about his true influence. But that may be viewing his work through too narrow a lens. Using a more comprehensive approach that looks at all of his decisions, Scalia ranks as the most influential jurist amongst the current justices. That said, he is not as influential as jurists of the past like William Rehnquist and Thurgood Marshall.

Using an approach called Hirsch’s index (“h-index”), we examined all federal judges, weighing the number of rulings he or she wrote and the number of times those decisions were cited in other opinions.

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The h-index is traditionally used in academia to quantify the citation impact of a scholar’s work. Studies have shown that the h-index is predictive of career trajectory and that it could be applied to compute the impact of research groups. A high h-index score means that the opinions authored are frequently cited and thus, considered influential. (For more on how an h-index score is calculated, check out this explanation.) Applying the h-index to our database of federal judges provides insight into who influences the law the most.

Scalia’s high h-index score indicates the lasting mark he leaves behind. Despite writing few majority opinions, his rulings were cited widely. When Scalia wrote, he made it count.

We’re diving into our Judge Analytics platform for a deeper statistical understanding of Scalia’s career and will be sharing our findings in the next few days. Check back in for more data-driven insights on Scalia’s rulings.

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