Daniel L. Chen, Evolution of the Judiciary: Political Cycles in Judicial Exits from the U.S. Courts of Appeals, TSE Working Paper, n. 16-721, October 2016.


Using data from 1802 to 2004, I show that U.S. Courts of Appeals judges are less likely to retire in each of the three quarters preceding a Presidential election when the party of the President at the time the judge leaves is different from the party of the U.S. President who appointed the judge. Judges are more likely to resign in each of the four quarters after a Presidential election, when the party of the President at the time the judge leaves is the same as the party of the President that appointed the judge. My results suggest that 13% of retirements and 43% of resignations are politically motivated. Previous research has not found political cycles because they relied on judges’ self-reports or conducted yearly rather than quarter-to-election analysis. I also show that these political cycles have increased in recent years, which may raise concerns about the political evolution of the judiciary.


Judicial Tenure; Counter-Majoritarian Difficulty; Polarization;

JEL codes

  • K00: General
  • Z1: Cultural Economics • Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology