Unraveling Scalia: Where the Similarities Begin

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Known for wielding a sharp pen, Justice Antonin Scalia ranks as the most influential among current Supreme Court justices. He had a singular voice as a judge, but as we shared in our last two blog posts, he was also inclined to cite himself, Justice Byron White, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in his majority opinions. If Scalia’s citations to certain judges and circuit courts are a potential indicator of jurists and cases he found persuasive, we wondered if other judges were influenced by the same factors. Which judge would be most similar to Scalia in his or her rulings in terms of citations, if not for wittiness?

To find out, we dug into our Judge Analytics platform and used the cosine similarity metric, which measures the distance between two vectors. This is used in a variety of applications including information retrieval, recommendation systems, and data mining. In this case, we chose Scalia as one vector and our database of federal judges as the second, and we measured the cosine angle between these two based on the citations in their majority opinions. The closer the cosine angle between Scalia and another judge, the more similar they are in terms of the cases they cite.

     Top 10 Judges with Citation Patterns Similar to Scalia 
 Ranking   Judge   Cosine Similarity Score
1 William Rehnquist 0.22
2 Sandra Day O’Connor 0.21
3 Anthony Kennedy 0.19
4 John Paul Stevens 0.19
5 Byron White 0.19
6 Ruth Bader Ginsburg 0.16
7   Patricia McGowan Wald 0.15
8 Harry Thomas Edwards 0.15
9 William Brennan 0.15
 10 David Souter 0.14

Judicial Peer Pressure

The judges who ranked highest for citation patterns similar to Scalia were fellow Justices William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Anthony Kennedy, all of whom were like Scalia in that they were appointed by President Ronald Reagan. At first, we assumed that this must speak to a shared conservative ideology, but examining the list further, we found that the theme amongst these ten judges is not judicial philosophy but one of contemporary influence.

The judges with citation patterns most similar to Scalia all served with him at one point, if not on the Supreme Court, then on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, as is the case for Judges Patricia Wald and Harry Edwards. Based on the cosine score, we can surmise that serving on the same court together indicates these judges all influenced each other and affected how they framed their opinions, including the cases they cited.

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.