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Dumbing Down the Courts

ISBN: 9781626522497
Binding: Paperback
Author: John R. Lott Jr.
Pages: 354
Trim: 5 x 8 inches
Published: 9/17/2013

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.


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.

"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

"The judicial confirmation process has become increasingly politicized on both sides of the aisle. The result has been increasing difficulty and delay in confirming presidential nominees. In this important study John Lott marshals the evidence on this issue that the modern confirmation process has affected not only the quantity but also the quality of federal judges." -Alan Sykes professor New York University School of Law

"Clear thoughtful and eminently readable Dumbing Down the Courts describes and explains the politicization of the judicial confirmation process. John Lott is carefully non-partisan throughout: neither party comes off looking clean. Be prepared to be troubled however-badly troubled. The book will leave thoughtful readers concerned-concerned not just about the degraded judicial confirmation process but about the effect that the process has had on the quality of the courts." -J. Mark Ramseyer professor Harvard Law School