Rush to Justice: The Disappearing Civil Trial
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I address an issue largely ignored by political science: the role of litigation procedure in influencing policy outcomes. The specific aim of my dissertation is to explain the phenomenon of diminishing civil trials and the concomitant policy effects caused by this diminution. I begin with the following research puzzle: United States federal civil case filings have increased steadily over time to reach the highest levels ever seen. Federal civil case filings have increased over 400% between 1964-2014. Yet, despite the increased number of case filings, the percentage of cases reaching trial is 1/12th what it was in 1964. Presently, only 1% of all cases filed reach trial. The puzzle is why have the number of trials diminished even though case filings have increased? And, does the diminution of trials have a substantive impact on national policies? My dissertation theorizes that the decrease in trials has resulted from a modification in litigation incentives created by changes to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, namely, the summary judgment process. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a trilogy of decisions which dramatically altered the usage of summary judgment, and in so doing, the economic incentives for litigants to go to trial. To address the aforementioned questions, I utilize a multi-level research design. First, in a macro-level study of aggregate data, I utilize advanced time series methods and find structural breaks in the data consistent with these changes to the summary judgment process. Additionally, continuing the macro-level analysis, I examine the consequences of this procedural change by analyzing the effects of the change to summary judgment on federal employment discrimination cases. I find diminishing employment discrimination trials cause increased disparity in income ratios between men and women, as well as African-Americans and whites. The findings suggest that changes to legal procedure by the federal judiciary have hurt legislative endeavors to promote income equality, despite Congress’ efforts to incentivize civil rights litigation. Finally, I perform a micro-level analysis evaluating case-level data. Through creation of a unique dataset, I evaluate the causes of motions for summary judgment and the determinants of judicial grants of such motions. The data suggest that several factors, including litigant resources and the type of case brought (such as civil rights cases), impact a court’s decision to dismiss claims using this procedural device. My results suggest policymakers must rethink their efforts at legislating equality through private statutory enforcement.
Conway, Nicholas David (2016). Rush to Justice: The Disappearing Civil Trial. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from