Amped Up

by The New Republic Staff | 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 right. 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. --Cass Sunstein

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