William & Mary Law Review


This Article empirically examines whether courts of appeals judges cast ideological votes in the bankruptcy context. The empirical study is unique insofar as it is the first to examine the voting behavior of circuit court judges in bankruptcy cases. More importantly, it focuses on a particular type of dispute that arises in bankruptcy: debt-dischargeability determinations. The study implements this focused approach in order to reduce heterogeneity in result. We find, contrary to our hypotheses, no evidence that circuit court judges engage in ideological voting in bankruptcy cases. We also find, however, non-ideological factors—including the race of the judge and the disposition of the case by lower courts—that substantially influence the voting pattern of the judges in our study.

The Article makes three broad contributions. First, it indicates that bankruptcy voting is comparatively non-ideological, at least at the level of the courts of appeals. Second, by identifying the influence of certain non-ideological factors on voting behavior, the Article suggests avenues for profitable future research. And third, the Article makes a methodological contribution through its fine-grained approach, which demonstrates the importance of focusing on particular legal issues in order to reduce heterogeneity in, and bolster the reliability of, findings from empirical legal studies.