(The Return of) Ignatz, by Sam Heldman

Friday, June 27, 2003

The end of the Supreme Court contest (who cares?)
The Supreme Court predictions contest has ended. I started the contest way back in August with this post. Only one other blogger was brave/idle/silly/intellectually-curious enough to join in: Ted, whose courage puts all others to shame because he had not even graduated from law school when he began the contest. We were "joined", in a sense, by the contest over at Washington University, which pitted a computer against a team of human experts. The experts' team, though anonymous, was a formidable one by all indications, including the head Volokh, who was asked to weigh in on three Constitutional Law cases. True, the folks at WU were doing something a little different and more sophisticated, trying even to predict the vote of each Justice; but their predictions could be fit into the same mold as ours with little fuss, and I tried to do so in a way that was more rather than less generous to their chances. The rules for my contest were a bit oversimple, maybe: a prediction of "affirm" meant "affirm, period," while "reverse" encompassed "reverse, vacate, reverse in part, or any other judgment other than 'affirmed.'" Then, in figuring out what predictions to count as correct, I have generally gone with the simple rule (e.g. you predicted 'reverse,' they reversed in part, you get credit) and have occasionally utilized a "benefit of the doubt" rule to give credit even beyond that – giving people credit when they could reasonably argue that credit is due – but (unless I'm forgetting something) I never found it necessary or appropriate to give myself the benefit of the doubt. If you want to see a chart listing all the predictions and showing who got credit for what in my counting (though I can't imagine that anyone's that interested), send me an email and I'll send you the pdf file.

One more thing: the campaign finance case that will be argued in September is technically part of this Term, but is not counted here.

Drumroll, please: Out of the 73 cases this Term that (a) were argued and (b) resulted in a decision (rather than dismissal as improvidently granted), the number of correct predictions were:

Sam: 55
Experts: 43
Computer: 48
Ted: 41

What does this prove? Take your pick:

(a) I was lucky.
(b) I was clever.
(c) If you believe that the role of a federal appellate judge is to be able to figure out what the Supreme Court would be more likely to do, then President Bush should withdraw the nomination of Mr. Estrada and nominate me instead (I would have suggested that I take the place of Mr. Pryor, but I'm not really in a hurry to move back to Alabama).
(d) That practicing lawyers have better insight than students, academics, and computers.

I'm going with (a), though I'll accept (c).

And let me recommend this to you: if you are a lawyer or law student who either fancies yourself to be, or would like someday to be, something of an expert on appellate law, then you should try this game next Term or some other time. It's a wonderful way to learn about areas of law, to see what sorts of arguments persuade and what don't, and all sorts of other side benefits. I, however, will retire undefeated.

posted by sam 6:53 AM 0 comments


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