Paper Title: Opinion Authorship and Precedential Status

Abstract: This Article presents original results from a large-scale empirical study of the relationship between opinion publication and judge demographics at the federal courts of appeals, focusing on gender and race. Opinion publication is significant because published federal appellate opinions, in contrast to unpublished ones, represent binding precedent and so shape the law. I find that, on average and holding other factors constant, men’s opinions are more likely to be published than women’s, and opinions by White judges more likely to be published than those by Black judges. I find further that opinions by women and by people of color receive fewer citations. But if we control for publication status, we no longer see this citation disadvantage, which suggests that the publication disparities are responsible for it. My results indicate that judges from historically marginalized groups have less opportunity than others to influence the law through published opinions. While the conversation around representation on the courts has revolved around the numbers of women and people of color on the bench, my study suggests that increasing these numbers may be insufficient for ensuring that these groups have equal opportunities to exercise voice and influence in the legal system. I discuss how gender- and race-based biases and power dynamics, together with the informal, non-transparent, and discretionary character of publication decisions, may lead to disparities in publication rates. This discussion raises pressing questions about the legitimacy of the opinion publication system in its current form. I then propose reforms that would mitigate the kind of disparities uncovered and would make for a more intelligible and better justified system of publication and precedent.


Michigan's Law and Economics Workshop provides an opportunity for faculty and students from across the University to engage with cutting-edge law and economics research by leading scholars on a wide range of legal and policy topics.

The Winter 2023 workshop meets on Thursdays from 4:30-6:30 p.m. All workshops occur in person in Jeffries Hall 1025 and are open to the academic community from the University of Michigan and elsewhere.

Professor J.J. Prescott ( organizes the workshop. If you would like to receive workshop announcements, please contact Alex Wroble ( and ask to have your name added to the workshop’s email list.