Vanderbilt Law Review


Scott B. Smith

First Page



During the 1996 term, the United States Supreme Court made a candid confession about its voting practices. In Seminole Tribe of Florida v. Florida, the Court overruled Pennsylvania v. Union Gas Co. and recognized that when a justice defers to the majority against his or her own reasoning inconclusive precedent results. Union Gas was particularly unusual because Justice White switched his vote to assure a result in a three-remedy case where none of the three remedies had the support of a majority. In Seminole Tribe, the Court admitted Union Gas "has, since its issuance, been of questionable precedential value, largely because a majority of the Court expressly disagreed with the rationale of the plurality." Accordingly, the Court recognized the problems created when a justice votes against his or her own reasoning to ensure a result.

While scholars frequently have analyzed the strategic voting practices of legislators, similar analysis of voting on judicial panels is relatively new. Frank Easterbrook was the first scholar to apply Arrow's Theorem systematically to the Supreme Court's voting practice, and several scholars followed his lead. After Justice White's vote in Union Gas, Professor John Rogers warned the Court against abdicating its role as a reasoned decision maker. He concluded, however, that the contradictory vote in Union Gas was aberrational.

More recently, Professors David Post and Steven Salop published an article encouraging multimember courts to abandon their traditional practice of outcome voting and instead to adopt a system of issue voting.' Shortly thereafter, Professors Lewis Kornhauser and Lawrence Sager urged appellate courts to adopt neither outcome voting nor issue voting as a rule. Rather, they suggested appellate courts should take a metavote on whether outcome or issue voting should control each case." Professor Maxwell Stearns advanced the debate over appellate court voting in a trilogy of articles published over the past two years. These articles apply social choice theory to the Supreme Court, providing an evolutionary analysis of outcome voting, stare decisis, and standing. The investigation of appellate court voting rules has become all the more intriguing following Seminole Tribe. Recognizing the important insights to be gained from an intense investigation of appellate court voting rules, the Vanderbilt Law Review has organized the following Colloquium to discuss whether appellate courts should continue using the traditional practice of outcome voting or whether such courts should adopt a system of issue voting.