Judicial Enforcers? Exploring Lower Federal Court Compliance in Regulating the Obscene

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Although federal circuit and district court judges are placed within a federal hierarchy, and receive legal and judicial training that emphasizes the importance of the judicial framework and its structure, such judges are also subjected to other pressures such as the types of litigants within the courtrooms as well as their local political environment. Furthermore, such judges are apt to form their own views about politics and legal policy and are often appointed by presidents who approve of their ideological leanings. Thus, federal courts are caught between competing goals such as their willingness to maximize their preferred legal policy, and ... continued below

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Ryan, John Francis May 2004.

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  • Ryan, John Francis

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Description

Although federal circuit and district court judges are placed within a federal hierarchy, and receive legal and judicial training that emphasizes the importance of the judicial framework and its structure, such judges are also subjected to other pressures such as the types of litigants within the courtrooms as well as their local political environment. Furthermore, such judges are apt to form their own views about politics and legal policy and are often appointed by presidents who approve of their ideological leanings. Thus, federal courts are caught between competing goals such as their willingness to maximize their preferred legal policy, and their place within the judicial hierarchy. This dissertation applies hierarchy and impact theory to assess the importance of the judicial framework and its socialization, by analyzing both the judicial opinions and votes of federal circuit and district court judges in obscenity cases during a four-decade period (1957-1998). The research presented here finds the influence of higher court precedent to correspond in part with the conception of a judicial hierarchy. An analysis of citations of Supreme Court precedent (Roth v. United States (1957) and Miller v. California (1973)) in lower court majority opinions suggests low levels of compliance: lower courts at the circuit and district court level do not signal to the Supreme Court their acceptance of High Court doctrine; thus, except for 'factual' cases, most circuit and district court decisions do not comply formally with higher court precedent. An analysis of judicial votes, however, suggests that a Supreme Court doctrinal shift (to Miller v. California) influences lower court decisions only at the circuit court level. Further investigation suggests that Supreme Court precedent has a greater influence in circuit courts than in district courts: not only is the magnitude greater for circuit (versus district) court decisions, such results occur when controlling for such factors as the appointing president, regional variations, various constitutional claims and types of litigants. Thus, it appears that the influence of Supreme Court doctrine is much stronger in the circuit courts (only one step removed from the Supreme Court) than in district courts yet the hierarchy is influential nonetheless.

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  • May 2004

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  • Feb. 15, 2008, 3:15 p.m.

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  • March 3, 2008, 11:56 a.m.

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Ryan, John Francis. Judicial Enforcers? Exploring Lower Federal Court Compliance in Regulating the Obscene, dissertation, May 2004; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4487/: accessed September 21, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .