Current Projects

  • “Rule of Law Showdown: Administrative Agency Compliance at the U.S. Courts of Appeals” (dissertation prospectus in progress):
Why do administrative agencies refuse to comply with the federal courts of appeals? While the conventional wisdom has long held that decisions of the United States Supreme Court impact the behavior of bureaucratic actors, few scholarly works have addressed this important question in the context of the lower courts. That we know little about the relationship between these institutions is both puzzling and concerning, insofar as the ever-shrinking Supreme Court docket and the growing number of legal challenges to agencies means that the courts of appeals have effectively become geographic courts of last resort for the lion’s share of administrative law cases. To rectify this lacunae, this dissertation pairs a novel theoretical framework and ambitious empirical approach to investigate how agency compliance at this level of the judicial hierarchy plays out, while building on foundational elements of bureaucratic and judicial politics.
  • Meek, Aaron A. “Investigating the Impact of Judicial Selection on Opinion Clarity.”
Critical to the debate over how state judges are chosen is the question of whether certain methods of judicial selection impact the quality and performance of judges. Despite the practical and normative importance of this question, however, little work has focused on the empirical study of the relationship between judicial selection and objective measures of quality. Here, I examine one of these measures — legal opinion clarity — in the context of state supreme courts. In order to study the connection between selection systems and opinion clarity, I employ an original dataset containing more than 300,000 state supreme court opinions from all 50 states during the period from 1960 to 2010 and compute readability scores for each opinion using text analysis programs. The main analyses test whether the rhetorical clarity of these opinions is, in part, a derivative of the method of judicial selection used by a state. Overall, the results of these empirical tests somewhat cut against intuitive arguments in favor of merit-based selection systems, demonstrating that (on average) these judges produce marginally less clear opinions than those written by judges chosen by other means. These results contribute to the growing body of research on the implications of judicial selection, particularly with regard to how effectively court decisions are received by other elites and the general public.
  • Meek, Aaron A. “To Write, or Not To Write? Court Curbing and Separate Opinion-Writing on the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Scholars investigating the relationship between Congress and the Supreme Court have long viewed “court curbing” as one of the quintessential forms of interinstitutional dialogue. But, while these legislative threats have been highlighted for their impacts on judicial _outcomes_ (i.e., opinions of the Court), far less work has examined the justice-level responses to court curbing proposals. Here, I propose a theoretical framework that seeks to explain the link between court curbing activity and an important component of individual-level judicial behavior: the decision to author a separate opinion. Using a variety of empirical approaches, I demonstrate that while court curbing does not exert an influence on the choice of justices to write separately in general, the chief justice and "swing" justice exhibit markedly different opinion-authoring behaviors than their colleagues.
  • Meek, Aaron A. “‘Sorry’ Decisis: State Supreme Courts and the Reverse-Erie Problem.”
Studies of the “judicial impact” of decisions made by the United States Supreme Court are commonplace in both the legal and political science literatures. Numerous models and theoretical frameworks have been offered to explain noncompliance with these decisions by state supreme courts and the lower federal courts, and this research has yielded great insights into the dynamics at work in interdependent judicial hierarchies. The near-exclusive focus on explaining the behavior of subordinate courts vis-à-vis the Supreme Court, however, neglects the important relationship between *coordinate* courts in the development of national legal policy. This essay proposes a comprehensive theoretical framework and initial research design for explaining the circumstances under which state courts of last resort — when ruling on questions of federal law — refuse to adhere to the precedents of their coordinate federal circuit court that ostensibly govern a given area of law, effectively creating a contradictory (but entirely legitimate) legal standard for the same geographic jurisdiction.
  • Meek, Aaron A. “United States Supreme Court Decision-Making and Downstream Legal Mobilization.”
Scholars operating in both the judicial politics and social movements traditions have, with relatively few exceptions, focused almost exclusively on legal mobilization by social movement organizations (SMOs) at the national high court level. While these studies have proven fruitful for our understanding of how and why these groups mobilize and the institutional structures that both constrain and facilitate these activities, the reality is that the vast majority of cases in most legal systems will never reach the court of last resort, and much of the actual "mobilizing" takes place in lower tribunals. Here, I take up the task of studying legal mobilization by SMOs in the U.S. federal district courts in an attempt to begin to fill this lacunae, and argue that salient Supreme Court rulings should engender increased levels of legal mobilization among SMOs as these groups attempt to seize the legal opportunities presented to them by the Court’s decisions.
  • Meek, Aaron A. “Domestic Elite Cues and Public Support for the European Court of Human Rights.”
Not unlike their domestic counterparts, international courts depend heavily on institutional legitimacy to induce compliance with their decisions and overcome the notorious judicial implementation problem. The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR), despite widespread acknowledgement of its success, is no different from other courts in this respect. Conventional wisdom suggests that (1) public support is critical for the maintenance of judicial power and (2) that this support is orthogonal to citizens' partisan motivations, such as attachments to particular political figures. These propositions, however, have yet to be tested systematically in the context of transnational legal institutions like the ECtHR. Here, I leverage cross-national survey data to investigate whether and to what extent individual-level attitudes towards the ECtHR are grounded in elite cues, substantive concerns about case outcomes, or both.