An Empirical Analysis of Hierarchy Effects in Judicial Decision Making
Christopher J. Zorn
Pennsylvania State University
Jennifer Barnes Bowie
George Mason University
June 30, 2007
Students of judicial decision making have long speculated that the factors influencing judicial decision making operate to varying degrees at different levels of the judicial hierarchy. Prominent among these has been what we term the "Hierarchy Postulate": that the effect of judges' policy preferences on their decisions increases as one moves up the judicial hierarchy. Yet to date no study has examined whether the influence of policy preferences on judges' decisions varies across the full range of the federal courts. We analyze the factors that influence judicial decision making using a unique, original data resource on cases decided at each level of U.S. federal court hierarchy. Doing so allows us to evaluate the differential impact of policy preferences on judicial decision making while simultaneously holding constant the influence of idiosyncratic, case-specific factors on those decisions. Our findings robustly and consistently support the contention that ideological and policy-related effects on federal judges' decisions are larger at higher levels of the judicial hierarchy, while legal and case-specific factors dominate at lower levels.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 33
Keywords: hierarchy, judges, judging, decision-making, federal courts
Date posted: May 23, 2007
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