A data-driven look at the devastating efficacy of a far-right judge-education program

More than 40% of US federal judges have attended Manne seminars, a notionally "bipartisan" educational conference presented by a Florida "Law and Economics" institute whose invited ideological allies explained to judges why pollution is good for minorities (polluted neighborhoods are cheaper and therefore affordable by poor people), unions are bad, monopolies are economically efficient, discrimination in punishment is economically efficient, insider trading is economically efficient, and so on.

The Manne seminars also included high-profile "liberal" economists as well, but they were asked to lecture in domains that were outside of their expertise. It was rare for rebuttals to the nutty Law and Econ ideas to be presented by economists who studied the subjects under discussion.

Using Freedom of Information Act requests, a group of academics got a list of the judges who attended the Manne seminars, then used "cutting edge econometrics and natural language processing" to analyze the judges' rulings, to see whether the Manne seminars actually changed the tenor of justice in America.

The short answer is that the Manne seminars were devastatingly effective: "we find that Manne attendees subsequently are more likely to rule against regulatory agencies, for example the EPA and NLRB. Next we look at criminal sentencing in the district courts. We find that Manne attendance is associated with harsher prison sentences imposed."

The program has a recognized conservative bias, yet the attending judges are effusive in their praise regardless of ideological standpoint. What is the impact on observed judge decisions? …We focus on two agencies the Law and Economics movement specifically criticized: the National Labor Relations Board and the Environmental Protection Agency. .. Manne judges exhibit a sharp and sudden increase in propensity to vote against federal labor and environmental regulatory agencies. … The differences-in-differences analysis … renders a consistent picture that Manne judges become more conservative after the training relative to their colleagues. …

this indicates the Manne program accounts for 28-42% of the rise in judicial conservatism. If peers and precedent also impact the non-Manne judges, then the true Manne impact may … explain an even larger portion of the historical shift. … Judges increase sentence lengths by 7 percent and any sentence by 2 percentage points after Manne attendance. …United States v. Booker loosened the formerly mandatory U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and offers a policy experiment to analyze the effects of judicial discretion. … economics trained judges render more severe sentences in the fiscal years after Booker. …the racial disparity in sentencing between black and white defendants is larger for Manne-trained judges than their colleagues. In addition, the gender disparity in sentencing between make and female defendants is larger for Manne-trained judges than their colleagues. …

Manne attendance increases use of economics language for Manne judges across both economics and non-economics cases. … Judges who sit with economics-trained judges start to use more economics language, consistent with a learning effect.

Law and Economics [Henry Farrell/Crooked Timber]

Ideas Have Consequences: The Impact of Law and Economics on American Justice [Elliott Ash, Daniel L. Chen, Suresh Naidu]