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dimanche 29 juin 2003

In this article, Discovery News tells us that according to a mathematician, the U.S. Supreme Court could have less than five "ideal" judges.

A mathematical analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court reveals that 4.68 of the nine justices are acting in an "ideal" manner, meaning that their votes appear to be unbiased and unaffected by preconceived notions or ideologies. While political scientists sometimes study the court using math principles, this research is the first to analyze the justices without any political criteria.
Lawrence Sirovich, professor and chair of biomathematical sciences at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, quantified the decision making process of the current Rehnquist court by creating a vector notation for the justices.

Are you ready for some math? Here we go.

The court can be represented by the simple equation: R={Breyer, Ginsberg, Kennedy, O'Connor, Rehnquist, Scalia, Souter, Stevens, Thomas}. A +1 or -1 can then represent each justice, depending on whether or not the individual agrees with the majority.
For example, {-1,-1,1,1,1,1,-1,-1,1} characterizes the most famous judgment of the court, the decision for the 2000 presidential election.
Sirovich calculated the total number of possible consenting and dissenting combinations that can occur for such a group of nine, 256, reduced from 512 since half of the combinations become unnecessary as some +1 and -1 patterns cancel each other out. Using court records, he determined that only 75 of these combinations occurred in judgments handed out over the last eight years by the Rehnquist court.
All nine justices would be considered "ideal" if the court had used the 256 combinations. Given that only 75 happened, the number of outcomes corresponds to a court consisting of 4.68 ideal justices, where ideal is defined as someone who exhibits near equal odds for voting in a consenting or dissenting manner in relation to the majority vote.

The abstract of Sirovich's paper, "A pattern analysis of the second Rehnquist U.S. Supreme Court," is available from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Source: Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News, June 23, 2003

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