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Predicting Drift on Politically Insulated Institutions: A Study of Ideological Drift on the United States Supreme Court

Elected officials have difficulty controlling politically insulated institutions, leaving the appointment process as perhaps their most effective means of influence. Yet, history shows that actors on these institutions—especially the Supreme Court—often behave unpredictably. Our goal is to determine whether variation in two components of cognitive style, prior to a justice’s nomination to the Court, predicts ideological drift once on the Court. Using linguistic software created by cognitive psychologists, we examined over 1000 speeches, articles, and separate opinions written by Supreme Court justices before they were nominated to the Court. Our results show that justices whose prenomination words revealed cognitive inconsistency drift more than those with stable world views.