William and Mary Law School

Professors' Research Referenced by National Media

Legal research by two different William & Mary law professors, Neal Devins and Allison Orr Larsen was featured last week in the national news.

The Caucus, a New York Times blog, ran a June 7 entry by Adam Liptak and Allison Kopicki that referenced research by Devins. The blog post, about a recent NYT/CBS News poll on whether the Supreme Court should uphold any or all of the 2010 health care law, referenced his 2010 study co-authored with Lawrence Baum of Ohio State University. That study concluded Supreme Court justices were not much concerned with mass opinion like that represented in the Times poll.

Neal DevinsThe blog quoted the study as saying, “Supreme Court justices care more about the views of academics, journalists and other elites than they do about public opinion. This is true of nearly all justices and is especially true of swing justices, who often cast the critical votes in the court’s most visible decisions.”

Liptak and Kopicki were writing on the pending decision by the Supreme Court on the constitutionality of the 2010 health care law legislation.

Also on June 7, a post to the Boston Globe Brainiac Blog by Josh Rothman – “Google changing how Supreme Court justices do research” - featured the scholarship of Larsen and her just released Virginia Law Review article, "Confronting Supreme Court Fact Finding."

“At first blush, it seems like a good thing for judges to search out the facts on their own. But the change, Larsen argues, is not for the better,” Rothman wrote.

Rothman notes Larsen’s arguments on the value of the adversary system of fact vetting (allowing both sides of an argument to be heard) and her articulation of concern that the reliance of individual justices Allison Orr Larsenon internally researched facts is a bad development.

Rothman noted that Larsen found, “Liberal and conservative justices, like anyone else, tend to engage in ‘motivated reasoning,’ and will seek out information from sources which they know, in advance, will agree with them. Moreover, even the most objective justices can be biased unintentionally, since bias of some kind is the inevitable result of using search websites, which shape the results you find according to your preferences and tastes.”

Larsen’s research interests include administrative law, constitutional law, and the institutional and informational dynamics of legal decision-making. Devins specializes in civil rights and constitutional law and also teaches a State Supreme Court "bloginar" as well as a seminar on the Supreme Court.