OPEN UNIVERSITY AUGUST 31, 2006
A few years ago, I was involved in some studies that
uncovered a funny fact: When Republican-appointed judges sit
on three-judge panels with other Republican appointees, they
show unusually conservative voting patterns. So too,
Democratic-appointed judges on three-judge panels show
especially liberal voting patterns when sitting with fellow
Democratic appointees. In short, like-minded judges show a
pattern if "ideological amplification."
The presence of even one Republican appointee often makes
Democratic appointees much more moderate. Republican
appointees often become much more moderate when even a single
Democratic appointee is there.
We now know that ideological amplification is pervasive on
federal courts--that it can be found in numerous areas,
including sex discrimination, affirmative action, campaign
finance law, disability discrimination, environmental law,
labor law, and voting rights.
It turns out that ideological amplification occurs in many
domains. It helps to explain "political correctness" on
college campuses--and within the Bush administration. In a
recent study, we find that liberals in Colorado, after
talking to one another, move significantly to the left on
affirmative action, global warming, and civil unions for
same-sex couples. On those same three issues, conservatives,
after talking to each other, move significantly to the
It's unclear whether anything can be done about ideological
amplification. But it's entirely clear that when private
organizations and governments blunder, ideological
amplification is often the culprit.