Law as a Discovery Process: An Informational Rational for Broad Judicial Decisions
Washington University in Saint Louis - Department of Political Science
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - Department of Political Science
November 11, 2011
This paper examines a model in which judges face uncertainty about what the law should be; however, by hearing cases, judges are able to acquire more information about the range of policies that are constitutional and the range of policies that are unconstitutional. In the setting examined, the danger of issuing a broad opinion --- i.e., issuing a ruling that has implications beyond the policy currently being challenged in the court --- is that the judge might incorrectly classify policies that are constitutional as unlawful; alternatively, the judge might mistakenly classify policies that are unconstitutional as lawful. Nonetheless, in the setting examined, we show that there exists an informational rational to issue broad decisions. By doing so, the judge can actively shape the future cases that come before the court, which, in turn, can facilitate the judge's ability to correctly classify policies as constitutional and unconstitutional. Our model thus contributes to debates about the appropriate scope of judicial decisions: our model highlights the conditions under which judges should decide cases on narrow grounds and the conditions under which judges should decide cases on broader grounds.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 30
Keywords: judicial decision-making, policymaking
JEL Classification: H11working papers series
Date posted: January 24, 2012
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