Deborah Beim – Doctrinal Development:
Topic Modeling in the Judicial Hierarchy

CITP Luncheon Series

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Date: Thursday, December 1, 2011
Time: 12:30 -1:30 pm
Location: 306 Sherrerd Hall
Food and discussion begins at 12:30 pm. Everyone invited.

Where does legal doctrine come from? Theoretical and qualitative empirical research has suggested that the Courts of Appeals develop doctrine that the Supreme Court then adopts, but no systematic evidence of this yet exists. In this paper, I use computerized text analysis to explore how arguments move from the Courts of Appeals to the Supreme Court and back down again. Using the text of all opinions from the Supreme Court and the U.S. Courts of Appeals, I apply the techniques from Bayesian topic modeling to case law. I quantify Supreme Court opinions as amalgams of Courts of Appeals opinions.

Results clearly show that the Courts of Appeals develop doctrine that is then adopted by the Supreme Court, and that this adoption is strategic. I then quantify changes in language use by the Courts of Appeals to show the impact of a Supreme Court opinion.


Deborah Beim is a fourth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Politics at Princeton University. She studies judicial politics in the United States, with a particular focus on formal and quantitative methods. Her dissertation is about strategic communication and learning between the Supreme Court and the Courts of Appeals.