Edited by Susan M. Sterett and Lee D. Walker
Chapter 19: Understanding the determinants of opinion language borrowing in state courts in the United States
Lower court judges are in the position of making meaningful contributions to the interpretation of law at higher courts, especially through their written words. Certainly, among the most important documents that high court justices consider when reviewing a case is the lower court opinion. We theorize a bottom up approach to understanding lower court influence on higher court opinion content—the bread and butter of judicial work. Specifically, we examine factors that increase the likelihood that state supreme court justices will borrow language from the intermediate appellate court opinion, hypothesizing that workload considerations, career traits, and case features influence borrowing. We test our model using plagiarism detection software and data on state supreme court and intermediate appellate court decisions in 1997, finding that case features shape a justice’s decision to borrow while career traits and workload considerations offer little explanation in the decision to adopt language from the lower court opinion.
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