Political Scientist Kevin Cope Named Associate Professor of Law

Research Focuses on International Law, Migration, Empirical Analysis
Kevin Cope

Kevin Cope’s research focuses on law and economics, international relations and international law.

January 16, 2019

Kevin Cope, an expert in international law who develops new legal data for cutting-edge research, has joined the University of Virginia School of Law faculty as an associate professor of law.

Through sophisticated textual analysis techniques, Cope’s work promises to reveal insights into the process of making treaties and the role of judges’ ideology.

Cope earned his B.A. in political science from the Ohio State University, J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law and LL.M. from the Georgetown University Law Center. He is currently a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Michigan.

Among his primary current initiatives, Cope is developing a method for understanding how states negotiate multilateral treaties, and how international organizations can optimize that process to improve global cooperation. The research combines a formal mathematical model of treaty-making with data collected from archived records of dozens of major international conventions, including trade and security agreements, the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In his findings, the data show the positions of every state on every issue, and they provide new understanding into the strategic dynamics of treaty negotiations.

“The methods may someday help officials design more effective treaty-making processes across a host of issue areas, from trade, to security, to environmental,” he said.

In another ongoing project, Cope is using automated text analysis and machine learning to quantify the complete Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. The data, crowdsourced from thousands of attorneys over the past 33 years, will be used to develop the first dynamic ideology measure for the entire Article III federal judiciary.

“I hope this new approach will foster breakthroughs in fields such as judicial behavior, jurisprudence and empirical legal studies, opening avenues of research that until now were closed due to data limitations,” he said.

“Political scientists have been interested for decades in assigning ideological scores to judges, but all of the existing measures have substantial shortcomings,” said Professor Michael Livermore, whose research also focuses on the computational analysis of law. “The almanac is familiar to many lawyers but unknown to the political science community, and using it to provide a new quantitative lens on judicial decision-making is a great example of the value of Kevin’s type of interdisciplinary legal scholarship.”

Cope’s related research on judicial ideology was introduced to a wider audience in September when he and Professor Josh Fischman co-authored an analysis published in The Washington Post of Brett Kavanaugh’s conservative judicial record. Their work was cited during Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearing.

Cope was formerly a research assistant professor of law at the Law School, and he maintains a faculty affiliation with UVA’s Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics.

“Having had the chance to research, teach and meet so many great colleagues here over the past couple of years, I’m thrilled to start this next chapter at UVA,” Cope said.

Before coming to UVA, Cope served as a federal judicial clerk for judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the Northern District of Ohio and the Court of Federal Claims. He also practiced government enforcement litigation law in Washington, D.C., with Skadden, Arps.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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