Nicholas W. Waterbury

Nicholas W. Waterbury

Ph.D. Student in Political Science

About Me

I am a Ph.D. student in the Department of Political Science at Washington University in St. Louis. Originally from southern Michigan, I obtained my B.A. in Political Science in 2016 from Michigan State University. I then joined the graduate program at WUSTL, earning my A.M. in Political Science in 2018. Outside of the discipline, I enjoy spending time on the tennis court, walking my Labrador Mix, and traveling an excessive distance to watch sporting events.


My research uses quantitative analysis to examine substantive questions across American politics, with a specialization in the federal judiciary. The majority of my work, including my dissertation, focuses on the ways psychological phenomena can affect political decision-makers in the federal judiciary. I also study separation of powers questions with multiple projects on the judicial nomination process and the executive branch's performance in court. Finally, I have a cursory interest in the politics of scandal, with research that considers how different types of scandals impact congressional elections and representation. In all of my research, I emphasize the use of newly collected data and contemporary methodologies designed to isolate causal effects. My work has been published in such outlets as Political Research Quarterly and the Journal of Law and Courts.


My dissertation incorporates the study of heuristics and cognitive biases into the study of judicial decision-making. These phenomena have been shown in experimental settings to greatly influence the impartiality of judges. However, these findings, which raise serious theoretical and normative concerns for court observers, are subject to external validity concerns. In my dissertation, I find convergence between the experimental results and real-world observational data. In the first project, I study the effect of an attorney's physical attractiveness on their success in the US Courts of Appeals. In the second, I test the influence of an approaching presidential election on the decision making of US Supreme Court justices. In the third, I examine the effectiveness of diversity jurisdiction by testing for home-state bias in the federal courts. All of my results support the inclusion of psychological biases in the study of judicial behavior.