Sunday, January 1, 2006
To analyze Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s record on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, The Washington Post first used Westlaw and Lexis legal databases to find all publicly available cases in which the judge took part and which contained at least one dissenting vote from a member of the court.
A team of reporters and researchers read those 221 cases, divided them by issues and coded Alito's votes on 10 general questions, such as whether he preferred the prosecution in a criminal case or the government in a regulatory case. Most of the cases were reread by another team member for accuracy. The reporters then eliminated cases in which Alito had merely voted whether to rehear a case, leaving 183 in which he had voted on substance. Of those, 153 contained issues included in the analysis. The other 30 were in non-ideological categories, such as bankruptcy cases, that The Post did not evaluate.
Reporters compared the results of Alito's voting patterns with a national database of federal appellate court decisions from the Appeals Court Database Project, funded by the National Science Foundation. The project contains a random sample of about 30 cases for each circuit for every year from 1925 to 1996. The Post used data from 1990 to 1996, a period that outside researchers said would provide a valid comparison with Alito's votes.
To identify whether a judge had been selected by a Republican or Democratic president, reporters used the companion Attributes of United States Appeals Court Judges database.
In using both databases, The Post relied on advice, updates and corrections provided by two political scientists who are updating the national data, Ashlyn Kuersten of Western Michigan University and Susan Haire of the University of Georgia. They also provided coding instructions, which The Post used to translate "liberal" and "conservative" labels in the national data into answers to the newspaper's questions.
The Post selected cases comparable to the Alito analysis by discarding those with no dissents. This method produced 248 cases, 182 of which contained issues similar to the Alito sample. Patterns could not be discerned in some categories of cases, such as federalism, because they were so rare among the Alito cases in the analysis.