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Adam Bonica and Maya Sen

Nov 17, 2021

The Judicial Tug of War

How Lawyers, Politicians, and Ideological Incentives Shape the American Judiciary

Cambridge University Press 2020

Why have conservatives decried 'activist judges'? And why have liberals - and America's powerful legal establishment - emphasized qualifications and experience over ideology? The Judicial Tug of War: How Lawyers, Politicians, and Ideological Incentives Shape the American Judiciary (Cambridge UP, 2020) tackles these questions with a new framework for thinking about the nation's courts, 'the judicial tug of war', which not only explains current political clashes over America's courts, but also powerfully predicts the composition of courts moving forward. As the text demonstrates through novel quantitative analyses, a greater ideological rift between politicians and legal elites leads politicians to adopt measures that put ideology and politics front and center - for example, judicial elections. On the other hand, ideological closeness between politicians and the legal establishment leads legal elites to have significant influence on the selection of judges. Ultimately, the judicial tug of war makes one point clear: for good or bad, politics are critical to how judges are selected and whose interests they ultimately represent.

Adam Bonica is Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science at Stanford University. His research has been published in journals such as the American Journal of Political Science, Political Analysis, Journal of Economic Perspectives, Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, and JAMA Internal Medicine.

Maya Sen is Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. Her research has been published in journals such as the American Political Science Review, the American Journal of Political Science, and the Journal of Politics, and has been covered by the New York Times, the Washington Post, The Economist, National Public Radio, and other outlets.

Ursula Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London. Her Cambridge University Press book America's Voucher Politics: How Elites Learned to Hide the State won the 2021 Education Politics and Policy Best Book Award from the American Political Science Association. Her writing guide Brilliant Essays is published by Macmillan Study Skills. She tweets @UrsulaBHackett.

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Ursula Hackett

Ursula Hackett is Senior Lecturer in Politics at Royal Holloway, University of London.

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