Abigail Matthews — 2018 Edward S. Corwin Prize Recipient

The American Political Science Association (APSA) will present the Edward S. Corwin Prize to Dr. Abigail Matthews at the 2018 APSA Annual Meeting & Exhibition, the world’s largest gathering of political scientists and source for emerging scholarship in the discipline. The $750 prize recognizes the best dissertation on public law. Edward S. Corwin, for whom the prize is named, served as APSA’s President from 1930 to 1931.  

Abigail Matthews is an assistant professor of Political Science at Miami University. She received her J.D. from Michigan State University College of Law and a B.A. in Government from Smith College. She spent several years prior to and during law school working in various public and private sectors including the United States Attorney’s Office in New York City and Grand Rapids. She completed her graduate studies in the summer of 2017 from the University of Iowa earning both an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science with concentrations in American politics and political methodology.

Her research broadly explores the practices of American courts and the role of the judiciary in the development of jurisprudence and specific domains of law. She bases her research primarily on empirical methodologies and approaches, which combine quantitative methods, such as big data and network analysis, with qualitative legal analysis. She also teaches courses on constitutional law and the American political system.

Abigail Matthews’ dissertation, “Connected Courts: The Diffusion of Precedent across State Supreme Courts,” begins with an interesting puzzle: state supreme courts are autonomous institutions yet routinely rely on each other to justify their decisions. Matthews addresses these issues with originality and rigor, drawing heavily on network theory and methods (especially temporal exponential random graph network analysis) that allow her to map judicial discourse among state courts. Her findings advance our thinking on several fronts. As a general matter, she shows that state supreme courts have become more connected over time yet there is no evidence that any single court has emerged as a leader.  Relatedly, state supreme courts do not simply cite other courts that look like them. Taken together, these findings, Matthews contends, show that courts are not just emulating each other but learning from one another, as judges seek answers from other courts when grappling with novel issues. This work serves as a powerful reminder that law is more than a set of prescriptive rules.It entails discourse shared across institutional boundaries among professional networks that seek to learn from each other, even when grappling with cases of first impression.