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Judicial Pork: The Congressional Allocation of Districts, Seats, Meeting Places, and Courthouses to the U.S. District Courts


How does Congress structure the Judiciary, specifically the organization of the lower District Courts? Since 1789, Congress has allocated at least 84 judicial districts, 686 judicial seats, 533 judicial meeting places, and 604 judicial courthouses to the lower courts. While previous scholarship has examined instances when District Court seats are created, we still know very little about the structuring of the District Courts by Congress. By combining insights from both the judicial politics and distributive politics literatures, I argue that Congress allocates districts, seats, meeting places, and courthouses as a means of providing pork to members’ states. I develop a theory of the allocation of judicial pork where I argue that Congress allocates judicial institutions similarly to traditional pork, like bridges and highways. Specifically, I contend that states with representation on the Judiciary Committees in the Senate and House of Representatives are more likely to be allocated judicial pork than states without such representation. Using newly collected data gathered from the Federal Judiciary Center, I test my theory using observational data from 1813 to 2014 and four case studies. In line with my expectations, I find evidence that suggests rank-and-file representation on the Senate and House Judiciary Committees positively effects the allocation of judicial pork.

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