Vice Dean Martin Installed as Nagel Chair of Constitutional Law and Political Science

Vice Dean Andrew Martin discussed “Institutional Empiricism in the 21st Century” during his recent installation as the Charles Nagel Chair of Constitutional Law and Political Science. Martin explored the growing applications and challenges of empirical studies in law and politics, brought on by the new age of technology and data collection. “Everything has changed in the last decade,” Martin said. “The future is here, and we’re all struggling to keep up.”  [View video


Martin, who holds a joint appointment with Washington University School of Law and the Department of Political Science in Arts & Sciences, is a prime example of the synergies of interdisciplinary teaching and research at the university. Making remarks at the installation ceremony were Provost Edward Macias, Dean Barbara Schaal, Dean Kent Syverud, and Professor Lee Epstein, University of Southern California, who is a colleague of and frequent empirical-research joint investigator with Martin.

“Andrew has become a giant among scholars and professors of constitutional law and political science,” said Kent Syverud, dean of the Law School and the Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor. “His dozens of articles are careful, rigorous, and insightful. They’ve come to define the standard for empirical studies of courts in the United States and in the world.”

“Andrew is a well-known expert at making sense of an overabundance of data and is a truly distinguished social scientist, educator, and scholar,” said Barbara Schaal, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Sciences and the Mary-Dell Chilton Distinguished Professor in the Department of Biology in Arts & Sciences, “By using cutting-edge statistics, data analysis, and visualization, he turns data into evidence. This allows decisions to be based on data as opposed to supposition or inference. His work contributes to building systems to help us rationally solve real world problems.”

During his installation address, Martin stressed that in the last 10 years, the sophistication of technology has changed dramatically. What used to be considered cutting-edge supercomputers just two decades ago, now have less computing power than the average iPhone, he observed. More significantly for empirical analysts is the explosive increase of data now at their fingertips.

For researches of law and politics, this data include surveys, court decisions, social media messages, medical records, census data, and even real-time financial information. With such a wealth of information, Martin said, the true challenge is constructing the right analytical tools to process it and draw reliable inferences.

Martin, who also directs the Law School’s Center for Empirical Research in the Law (CERL), posed the question of why institutions should be studied empirically. Drawing from his experience researching the workings of the Supreme Court of the United States, he explained how, with the right tools, empirical study can help break down the inner workings of today’s great legal battles.

“Learning how judges make decisions is … important not only to those who appear in court, but to all of us who are affected by the decisions judges reach,” Martin said. “In the next few months the Supreme Court will decide cases that will implicate the future of the Voting Rights Act, affirmative action in our universities, and gay marriage.”

Martin’s expertise is in the study of judicial decision-making, with special emphasis on the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts. Principal of the analytics consultancy Principia Empirica LLC, he also works extensively in the field of political methodology and applied statistics. He has published in a number of prominent law reviews and leading social science and applied statistics journals, and is a frequent presenter at conferences and workshops throughout the country.

His research has been supported by the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Institutes of Health. Martin was elected a Fellow of the Society for Political Methodology in 2012. With Professor Kevin M. Quinn, University of California—Berkeley, Martin developed the Martin-Quinn Scores that are widely used to measure ideology on the Supreme Court.

As part of his lecture, Martin also described how empirical research methods can be used to benefit other institutions, including those of higher education. For example, in his role as CERL’s director, Martin has worked on empirical studies to help enhance the performance of the law school.

“Today legal education is in the midst of huge structural changes that affect all law schools and law students,” Martin said. “As we compete with other universities for students and faculty, we need to use the tools of empirical research to make our programs as competitive as possible.”

The Nagel chair was established through the estate of Daniel Noyes Kirby, who received his bachelor’s degree in 1886 and his law degree in 1888, both from Washington University. He was a member of the Washington University Corporation (the predecessor to the Board of Trustees), lecturer in the Law Department (the predecessor to the law school), and a prominent St. Louis attorney.

- Brent Mueller