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Abstract

This paper examines the factors that influence the success of federal court cases about the Endangered Species Act (ESA). I use logistic regression and empirical analysis to test several models of judicial decision-making on section 4 ESA cases. In this paper, I aggregate literature on judicial decision-making, wilderness as a concept, and the implementation of the ESA and discuss the effects of these separate fields on each other. Next, I evaluate the characteristics of 358 district court cases by building a model using backwards selection from 27 original variables. The variables that are significantly influential in whether an animal is ultimately protected are: what the judge’s ideology is, whether the plaintiff is a group, and whether the animal in question is charismatic. I find that the ESA is both a victim to and the epitome of the broader disagreement among Americans about how we define and treat wilderness. The ESA is incoherent and provides little guidance to its implementing agencies, forcing judges to use their own personal conceptions of wilderness in ESA cases. A national exploration of our relationship with wilderness is necessary to end the ESA’s erratic implementation and confront the effects of judicial policymaking through adversarial legalism on our democratic principles.

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