Monday, February 22, 2016

A Tear for Justice Douglas

Nathan Yau at Flowing Data has a chart of the liberal/conservative scores of all justices since 1937.  The point is to show how replacing Scalia will make a big change in the median justice.  It's fine for that.

But for me, a person who remembers the days of "Impeach Earl Warren", it's fun to look toback over history.  Liberals today are more tightly grouped than in the last 50 years.  But look at the outliers over time.  Justice Thomas is one, but the real outlier is Justice Douglas.  The metrics used run from -6 to +4 with minus being liberal and plus being conservative.    So, during the years shown (1937-2015) the outliers are:
  • Douglas (-6)  (eyeballed) who wanders ever more "liberal" until the end
  • Rehnquist (-4.5) who's most conservative in 1975 but grows more and more moderate, particularly after becoming chief.
  • Marshall (-4.3) who becomes more liberal
  • Brennan (I think) (-3.9) who becomes more liberal
  • Thomas (+3.5) who's pretty consistent, a bit more moderate in recent years
  • Scalia (+3.5) who's amazingly changeable, starting off at +1.2, going to +3.5 in 2000 and back to +2
The conservatives get frustrated with the Court.  A clue to why might lie in an eyeball comparison of liberals and conservative justices since Nixon--the conservative paths seem to be more scattered and variable than do the liberal ones (particularly after discounting Brennan and Marshall).  The variability probably means they're less effective in joining to form a majority.

[updated--the reason for the title of the post--Justice Douglas was talented, but he became seriously odd in his later years.)

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