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Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench [Kindle Edition]

John R. Lott Jr.
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Judges have enormous power. They determine whom we can marry, whether we can own firearms, whether the government can mandate that we buy certain products, and how we define “personhood.” But who gets to occupy these powerful positions? Up until now, there has been little systematic study of what type of judges get confirmed.

In his rigorous yet readable style, John Lott analyzes both historical accounts and large amounts of data to see how the confirmation process has changed over time. Most importantly, Dumbing Down the Courts shows that intelligence has now become a liability for judicial nominees. With courts taking on an ever greater role in our lives, smarter judges are feared by the opposition. Although presidents want brilliant judges who support their positions, senators of the opposing party increasingly “Bork” those nominees who would be the most influential judges, subjecting them to humiliating and long confirmations.

The conclusion? The brightest nominees will not end up on the bench.

Editorial Reviews


''Dumbing Down the Courts is a critical read for anyone who seeks to understand the judicial confirmation battles of recent decades. Lott's meticulous research demonstrates that these contentious battles result from a politicized process in which both activist judges and partisan senators are to blame. When activist judges abandoned their limited, constitutional role and usurped the functions of elected legislators, senators reacted by using political litmus tests in assessing judicial candidates. The surest fix to drawn-out confirmation battles is to ensure that judges adhere to their proper role: to apply the law as it is written.'' --Edwin Meese, former U.S. Attorney General

''John Lott provides a powerful critique, amply supported by facts, of the rapid deterioration of the process for confirming federal judges. As courts have become more political and government has grown increasingly intrusive, battles over confirmations have grown more intense and partisan, with the result, Mr. Lott concludes, that the quality of the judiciary is endangered.'' --Robert Bork, former U.S. Appeals Court judge and Supreme Court nominee

''This book is a serious effort to identify and grapple with the current problems in our judicial nominations process. Unlike the many partisan works on the subject, John Lott does not lay the blame of our current troubles on one party's doorstep but demonstrates that there is more than enough fault to go around. Even those who disagree with the author's conclusions will be well advised to read this excellent book.'' ----William P. Marshall, professor, University of North Carolina Law School, and former Deputy White House Counsel to President Clinton

About the Author

John R. Lott, Jr., has held research and/or teaching positions at the University of Chicago, Yale University, Stanford, UCLA, Wharton, and Rice, and was the chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission during 1988 and 1989. A contributor, Lott is the author of eight books, including More Guns, Less Crime and Freedomnomics. He received his Ph.D. in economics from UCLA in 1984.

Product Details

  • File Size: 2958 KB
  • Print Length: 227 pages
  • Publisher: Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 8, 2013)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00F2OUDM4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #582,246 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Novel, interesting, and important findings September 15, 2013
(Disclosure: I went to graduate school at UCLA with John.)

This book does a fine job of arguing a single, important point. Over the last twenty-five years or so individuals who would be the most effective federal judges are increasingly likely to suffer delays in being confirmed and are less likely to actually be confirmed. John states his thesis on the first page:

"Who are the nominees that make it through the confirmation process to become a federal judge? Are they the brightest people who have the most detailed and sophisticated knowledge of the law? Are the most successful lower court judges also the most likely to get promoted to serve on higher courts?

"Surprisingly, the qualities that make someone a successful judge also make them less likely to be confirmed for the same reason that smart, persuasive people are rarely asked to be jurors."

John supports his thesis in two principal ways. In Chapter 2, "Supreme Battles," he provides some anecdotal evidence. For example, the nominations of Robert Bork and Douglas Ginsburg were opposed effectively because they were considered too "brilliant"; Anthony Kennedy was acceptable because he wasn't considered as smart (pp. 75-76). Elena Kagan was confirmed with fewer votes than Sonia Sotomayor because Kagan was considered "more formidable" (p. 81).

John presents the bulk of his argument in Chapter 4, "Who Has the Toughest Time Getting Confirmed?" This chapter uses regression analysis to look at how nominees of different quality are treated. But what is "quality"? John uses two types of measures.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dumbing Down the Courts January 4, 2014
By Buzz4
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
We are so screwed actually and factually with a court system that seeks to average out court cases with bias and moderation. If you are not a politically correct demographic our dumb down court system will victimize generations as a form of social justice having nothing to do with fairness and factually damaged parties. This book nails the problem and exposes so many fallacy's of what should have never become political or legislative. The court system is supposed to bring clarity, truth and facts to troubled matters, not the poison of agendas.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended January 26, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition
Dr. Lott gives us another meticulously researched work into the politicization of the judicial nomination process. The book is very readable, and for those who want to dig into the statistics, Dr. Lott provides plenty of graphs and charts in the supplements at the end. The book is not just aimed at lawyers but can be read by anyone who is interested in why the smartest judicial minds never end up on the bench.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A well documented argument September 4, 2013
Professor John Lott continues to write important public policy books that carefully document what many just suspect is true. In "Dumbing Down the Courts" Professor Lott shows how the increased reach of the court and its use as a quasi branch of the legislature has made nominations and confirmations more contentious. This has increased the costs for those nominated, has altered the pool of those willing to stand, and has changed the type of judge who can survive the process. The result is that those most qualified, those with the most impressive judicial credentials, and those most intelligent to decide complex cases, are less likely to be confirmed.

Professor Lott carefully documents the increased legislative role of the court, the increased role of the federal court, the increased political role of the ABA, and the costs of being nominated. Like much of his work, the book is full of statistics, graphs, and analysis. The book contains several appendices with empirical details. Some of the main chapters are based on his previously published work. It is well researched, and should not be dismissed out of hand.

As one who watched the Rehnquist and Bork nominations in a graduate computer lab, glad to have an excuse to avoid working on my academic work, I enjoyed his historical analysis of the watershed Reagan years.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Recommend! January 17, 2014
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The courts have become politicized. The confirmation process does not allow for the smartest, most academically qualified folks to achieve confirmation. The process has become too lengthy and cumbersome. Some well-qualified men & women refuse their nomination for the stated reasons and the fact that they are bombarded with too much private information that has nothing to do with their previous court decisions.The Senators are more interested in their ideaology then their constitutional beliefs. Judge Bork is one of the best examples (1987).
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