Now that the Supreme Court has finished its 2013-14 term, legal scholars and court watchers have another 67 decisions (in argued cases) to analyze and refine their models of how the Court works. One development was noted by several commentators: Despite the oft-described ideological and jurisprudential divisions among the justices, they agree a lot more often than they disagree.
The chart above, from The New York Times, shows how often each justice has sided with every other justice in the 280 decisions issued since 2010 (the Court’s lineup has been stable since Elena Kagan joined it in 2010). The highest agreement rates, as might be expected, are between justices appointed by the same President: Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan, 94% (both appointed by Obama) and John Roberts and Samuel Alito, 93% (both appointed by George W. Bush). But even the two most disparate justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Clarence Thomas, have been on the same side nearly two-thirds of the time.
That has much to do with the large number of unanimous decisions the Court has issued. Two-thirds of this past term’s decisions, the Times notes, were 9-0 — the highest percentage since at least 1953 — including ones on abortion-clinic protests and police searches of smartphones.
Chief Justice Roberts, Court observers say, has worked hard to try to have the Court speak with a single voice as often as possible. But even when they agree on the outcome of a case, the justices frequently disagree on the legal reasoning, spelling out their views in concurring opinions that sometimes read almost like dissents.
Category: Chart of the Week
Topics: Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing for-profit businesses to opt out of the contraceptive mandate in the new health care law has raised questions about what the ruling might mean for businesses, for future challenges to the contraception mandate, and even for the future of church-state law. We posed these questions to Robert Tuttle, one of the nation’s experts on church-state issues. He is the Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion at the George Washington University, and is a Pew Research Center consultant.
1) Are there other aspects of the Affordable Care Act that are likely to face religious-liberty challenges? If so, does the Hobby Lobby decision support those challenges?
Alito’s opinion, and Kennedy’s concurring opinion, repeatedly stress the narrow scope of the decision. Both justices say the ruling applies only to coverage of contraceptives, not to other health care services that might also face religious objections. At the same time, it’s not hard to imagine a business owner having a sincere religious objection to subsidizing coverage of particular treatments – such as blood transfusions, which are opposed by Jehovah’s Witnesses – or to traditional health care in general. Read More →
As Americans prepare to celebrate the country’s birthday, a clear majority considers the U.S. to be one of the greatest countries in the world. But the view that the U.S. is exceptional – standing above all other countries in the world – has declined 10 points since 2011.
About three-in-ten (28%) think that the U.S. “stands above all other countries in the world,” while most (58%) say it is “one of the greatest countries in the world, along with some others.” Few Americans (12%) say there are other countries in the world “that are better than the U.S.”
Three years ago, 38% said the U.S. stood above all others, while 53% said it was one of the greatest nations and 8% thought some others were better than the U.S.
A study in which Facebook manipulated the news feeds to more than 600,000 users sent social media users into a cyber-swoon this week and spilled over into the mainstream media: “Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions,” began the headline on the New York Times website.
But the controversy over what these researchers did may be overshadowing other important discussions, specifically conversations about what they really found—not much, actually—and the right and wrong way to think about and report findings based on statistical analyses of big data. (We’ll get to the ethics of their experiment in a moment.)
Because they are so large, studies based on supersized samples can produce results that are statistically significant but at the same time are substantively trivial. It’s simple math: The larger the sample size, the smaller any differences need to be to be statistically significant—that is, highly likely to be truly different from each other. (In this study, the differences examined were between those who saw more and those who saw fewer emotion-laden posts compared with a control group whose news feeds were not manipulated.) Read More →
Category: Social Studies
Of the thousands of unaccompanied children apprehended at the U.S. border in recent months, many can be attributed to poverty and regional violence in three Central American countries, a new U.S. Department of Homeland Security document finds. The document says the reasons driving the migration are different for each country, attributing it to local conditions.
“For example, many Guatemalan children come from rural areas, indicating they are probably seeking economic opportunities in the U.S. Salvadoran and Honduran children, on the other hand, come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the U.S. preferable to remaining at home.” Read More →
The earnings gap in the nation’s workforce has widened in recent years as the pay of high-wage workers has risen and the pay of low-wage workers has fallen. But while this double-edged phenomenon affects all racial and ethnic groups, Hispanics may be feeling the impact more acutely than others, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.
The median weekly earnings of Hispanics at the low end of the wage scale fell by 9.4%, from $278 to $252 (in fourth quarter 2013 dollars) between 2007 and 2013, years that span the Great Recession and the fitful economic recovery. Meanwhile, the median weekly earnings of Hispanics in the highest wage bracket increased 4.4%, from $1,604 to $1,675.
The earnings gap also stretched among other groups of workers, but to a lesser extent.
Among blacks, the median weekly earnings of those in the lowest wage bracket of the U.S. income distribution decreased 7.7% from the fourth quarter of 2007 to the fourth quarter of 2013 while the earnings of those in the highest wage bracket increased 1.9%. Over the same period, the pay of white low-wage workers fell 5.6% and the pay of white high-wage workers rose 3.4%. Among Asians, the earnings of low-wage workers were unchanged but the earning of high-wage workers increased 6.8%. Read More →
American political parties have long been vehicles to represent ever-shifting coalitions of particular interests — economic, regional, social and ideological. For example, Great Plains farmers who often voted Democratic a century ago now solidly favor Republicans; African Americans who were loyal GOP voters for decades after the Civil War began shifting during the New Deal and now are overwhelmingly Democratic. Political observers can still spend hours of pre-election time ruminating over whether the “big-city ethnic vote” or the “farm vote” will prevail.
But the parties also are coalitions of distinct groups of voters, whose shared attitudes and values unite them — and shape the parties they incline toward — at least as much as more impersonal economic and societal forces. The Pew Research Center’s mammoth new political typology report offers a different way to think of the two major parties’ component pieces. (For the purposes of this post, we limited our analysis to registered voters and combined self-identified Republicans or Democrats with independents who lean toward one or the other party.) Read More →
So far, the growing crisis in Iraq has not drawn strong interest from the American public. As Sunni militants extend their control of large swaths of Iraq, 25% say they are paying very close attention to the growing violence and political instability in Iraq.
By comparison, 28% of Americans surveyed June 26-29 say they followed news about problems with care at veterans’ hospitals very closely and 21% paid very close attention to news about the IRS losing employee emails. Read More →
The Supreme Court today expanded the scope of religious-liberty rights and dealt a blow to part of the Obama administration’s health care overhaul when it ruled 5-4 that some for-profit businesses have religious rights and, as a result, can opt out of the law’s contraception mandate. But the ruling, while important, is limited because it applies only to smaller, closely held businesses and specifically warns against companies using religious-liberty claims to discriminate. Read More →
The Pew Research Center’s studies about libraries and where they fit in the lives of their communities and patrons have uncovered some surprising facts about what Americans think of libraries and the way they use them. As librarians around the world are gathered in Las Vegas for the American Library Association’s annual conference, here are findings that stand out from our research, our typology of public library engagement and the quiz we just released that people can take to see where they compare with our national survey findings: What kind of library user are you?
1Each time we ask about library use, we find that those ages 65 and older are less likely to have visited a library in the past 12 months than those under that age. Equally as interesting is the fact that younger Americans (those ages 16-29) are just as likely to be library users as those who are older.
2Although 10% of Americans have never used a library, they think libraries are good for their communities. We’ve identified this group of library users as “Distant Admirers,” and they are the majority of the nearly 15% of Americans ages 16 and older who have never been to a library. Despite their lack of personal use of libraries, their positive views of libraries might stem from the fact that 40% of Distant Admirers report that someone else in their household is a library user. About two-thirds of them or more say libraries are important because they promote literacy and reading, that they play an important role in giving everyone a chance to succeed and they improve the quality of life in a community. Finally, 55% say the loss of the local library would be a blow to the community.