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First published online July 11, 2013

Law, Fact, and the Threat of Reversal From Above


This article argues that the threat of review and reversal by supervising courts affects circuit court judges differently in disputes focusing on law compared to disputes focusing on facts. Because fact-bound cases are less likely to be reviewed than law-bound cases, lower court judges are freer to indulge their policy preferences in fact-bound cases. I test this argument using computer-assisted content analysis to measure the extent to which legal disputes are based on interpretations of facts and interpretations of relevant legal standards, respectively. The results of this content analysis are then used as independent variables in a model predicting the outcomes of legal challenges to the actions of administrative agencies. The results indicate that highly fact-bound decisions amplify the effects of judicial ideology while highly law-bound decisions constrain the effects of ideology.

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Joseph L. Smith is associate professor of Political Science at The University of Alabama. He received his PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 1999.

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Published In

Article first published online: July 11, 2013
Issue published: March 2014


  1. courts
  2. law
  3. content analysis
  4. strategic behavior

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© The Author(s) 2013.
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Published online: July 11, 2013
Issue published: March 2014



Joseph L. Smith
The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA


Joseph L. Smith, The University of Alabama, Box 870213, 356 ten Hoor Hall Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA. Email: [email protected]

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