Buffalo Environmental Law Journal

First Page


Document Type



In Copyright


Political ideology has long been associated with the manner in which judges make judicial decisions. Extensive empirical research has established the link between a judge s political ideology and how they rule on cases. However, little research has been conducted specifically in environmental law. Indeed, what research is available looks at environmental law in general and has not asked any questions concerning how political ideology might affect decision-making concerning specific environmental statutes. This article seeks to partially fill this void by looking specifically at how political ideology affects whether judges affirm or reverse agency action with respect to the Clean Water Act versus the Clean Air Act. The data used in this analysis were collected from seventy environmental law cases, which include 116 instances of statutory interpretation and 347 judicial votes concerning cases appealed to the U.S. Courts of Appeal over a three-year period from 2003 to 2005. Findings indicate that political ideology is a much more important factor in Clean Water Act cases as compared to Clean Air Act cases. Furthermore, evidence shows that panel composition was much more important for Clean Water Act decisions as opposed to Clean Air Act decisions. These findings are placed within the genera/framework of understanding legal decisions as a product of both legal interpretation and political preferences.