Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors


Political Science

First Advisor

Josh Strayhorn

Second Advisor

Scott Adler

Third Advisor

Kathryn Pieplow


Many people act strategically to be promoted. Is it possible that circuit court judges make decisions with the goal of being nominated to the Supreme Court? I examine the behavior of federal circuit court judges by using a dichotomous variable where a ruling is made in a liberal or conservative direction. I observe the effects of unified and divided government, as well as Senate polarization. Although I hypothesize that short list judges under unified government will behave more ideologically than non-short list judges under unified government, I find reverse results. Short list judges are more likely to vote moderately than their non-short list counterparts when government is unified. Perhaps this is the result of wanting to demonstrate their behavior is not bound to one ideology. Under divided government, there is no significant difference in behavior between short list judges and non-short list judges. I also find null results when I examine the effect of polarization on judge voting. Overall, the results offer some evidence that short list judges are, in certain instances, strategically altering their behavior, however they are moderating rather than acting in a polarizing manner. Implications for such behavior are vast – judges are not always deciding on cases based on “good law,” but are sometimes prioritizing personal gain. Continuation of such behavior could ultimately undermine public trust in the judiciary. My findings are not as robust as other studies on judge behavior, demonstrating that the Senate may have less influence than the president on the behavior of judges.