Find the working paper here. (Version: 9/2019)
What are the positions of highest courts towards political reforms? In order to answer this question scholarship on the US Supreme Court uses judicial votes but those are often not available in cross-country comparison. We present an approach scaling judicial decisions based on textual features other than votes. In particular, we argue that the legal outcome and tendencies field in briefs by scalable political actors can be used to compute a vote-matrix similar to roll-call data in legislative studies. With the obtained data we are able to estimate location scores employing a standard two-parameter item-response theory model using R STAN. Moreover, computing priors from the known manifesto positions of political actors allows as to meaningful anchor the court’s locations in relation to the political positions in one common policy-space. The procedure applies independently of specific judicial systems but to outline the feasibility, we assess 100 senate decisions by the German Federal Constitutional Court. Our computed spatial measures allow for assessing the judiciary’s willingness to align or diverge from the opinion of governing parties and their political reform. Moreover, the measure helps to validate common theoretical expectations which are based on the assumption that courts are strategic (political) actors.