The debate is over. It is empirically settled: Cantwell v Connecticut is the most influential United States Supreme Court case of all time; Branzburg v Hayes is the most well-grounded. So says a recent paper by Professor James F. Spriggs II and his coauthors entitled Network Analysis and Law: Measuring the Legal Importance of Precedent at the U.S. Supreme Court. Spriggs addressed the Workshop on Judicial Behavior Wednesday evening to discuss the paper in which he and his coauthors apply network analysis (typically used for computer science and sociology) to legal opinions. Their aim: to identify “the most legally central” Supreme Court cases.
Network analysis studies the relationships between things, be it people, information, or computers. Analysts study the connections (“links”) between the things (“nodes”) to determine the centrality or prestige of nodes within the network.
Spriggs’ paper used Supreme Court opinions as nodes and citations within opinions as links. Using this framework, the paper coded “outward citations” (all precedents a given case cites) and “inward citations” (all the opinions that cite a given case). Using this technique, the paper created a network of all Supreme Court majority opinions between 1791 and 2005.