Mathematical Digest

Short Summaries of Articles about Mathematics
in the Popular Press

"A Mathematician Crunches the Supreme Court's Numbers," by Nicholas Wade. The New York Times, 24 June 2003.

This article summarizes Dr. Lawrence Sirovich's article "A pattern analysis ofthe second Rehnquist U.S. Supreme Court," which appeared in The Proceedings of the National Academy ofSciences. Sirovich used information theory and singular decompositiontheory to analyze nearly 500 final opinions since 1995 (since the panel hasremained stable), and concludes that the voting pattern "shows that the courtacts as if composed of 4.68 ideal justices" and "the decision space of theRehnquist court requires only two dimensions for its description." Hedetermined that 4.68 ideal justices would have produced the same diversity ofdecision making. (Sirovich defines "ideal justice" as one whose voting isuncorrelated with any other's, but concedes that before final votes thejustices do file opinions and dissents and do cooperate.) Wade reports that"although [Sirovich's] refusal to draw any political implications from hisanalysis may disappoint some people, the neutrality of the approach is whatmakes it appealing to political and legal scholars." Sirovich is in thedepartment of biomathematical sciences at Mount Sinai School of Medicine andintroduced the technique used in face recognition systems.

In addition, NPR's Scott Simon, host of Weekend Edition, interviewed KeithDevlin on the topic "The Mathematically Perfect Court," on June 28, 2003.

See also:

"Why Those Opinions Don't Add Up," by Jocelyn Selim. Discover, October 2003.

"Supreme Court Independence, by the Numbers," by Tom Gugliotta. Washington Post, 28 July 2003,page A7.

"Ideal Justice," by Erica Klarreich. Science News, 28 June 2003, page405.

--- Annette Emerson