It’s Depressing how Little it Costs to Bribe a Federal Judge

Read this article on the Manne seminars, where conservative activists wined and dined judges with a statistically significant effect on their rulings:

Ideas have consequences.

That’s the title of a recent paper by economists Elliott Ash, Daniel Chen, and Suresh Naidu, and depending on your political beliefs, the consequences they’re talking about are either heartening or deeply disturbing.

Ash, Chen, and Naidu studied the Manne Economics Institute for Federal Judges, a program offering economics instruction to federal judges so that they could incorporate economic reasoning into their papers. Launched in 1976 by the legal academic Henry Manne with support from corporations and conservative funders like the Olin Foundation, the institute was one of the most effective disseminators of Law and Economics, a movement in legal academia that sought to incorporate analysis of economic efficiency and incentives into the study of the law.

On its own, that sounds benign enough. And distinguished liberal lawyers and judges, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, even went to these seminars (Elizabeth Warren met her husband at a Manne event for law professors). But Ash, Chen, and Naidu find that the training in the programs had a conservative/libertarian bent, and that this shows up in the behavior of judges who attended. Attendees were less likely to rule in favor of environmental or union regulations and gave longer prison sentences to federal defendants. The study provides evidence that the seminars, and the broader Law and Economics movement promoted by conservative philanthropies like the Olin Foundation, pushed American courts to the right.


They were these two- to three-week camps that were held in very nice places and resorts.

They basically flew in judges and gave them a two- to three-week course in Law and Economics. … It was taught by various eminent economists.


What we find is that after you attend the Manne seminars — first, you start using a lot more economics language in your written opinions.

One of the judges, after attending the Manne programs, actually used a supply and demand diagram in a court opinion. That’s the first time ever that kind of an economics diagram gets used in a court opinion.

But then, in terms of actual outcomes, what we see is that they also start voting more conservatively on economic cases.

What we look at is whether or not you find against the EPA or NLRB [National Labor Relations Board, the federal union regulator] in a case where one of those is the plaintiff.

And we find that you’re less likely to find in favor of the federal regulatory agency after you attend the Manne program.

For a few seminars, worth perhaps a few thousand bucks each including airfare, you pushe the judiciary further to the right, and the next time you push farther.

Rinse, lather, repeat.

The right wing has been doing this for nearly 50 years, you could argue that this started with the Powell Memo in 1971, and it has been paying dividends for the people who prey on the rest of us.

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