The Politics of Judicial Departures in the U.S. Federal Courts

32 Pages Posted: 16 Apr 2008

See all articles by Jessica Perry

Jessica Perry

Reed Smith LLP

Christopher Zorn

Pennsylvania State University

Date Written: April 15, 2008


We develop and test a simple decision-theoretic model of voluntary departures from the U.S. federal courts, one that formally incorporates both personal and political considerations into judges' decisions to leave the bench. Our analysis goes beyond previous work in examining such departures across all three levels of the federal judicial hierarchy, using a consistent coding of the relevant influences on such decisions, and for all judges sitting on Article III courts from 1789 through 2002. Our findings indicate that while personal factors related to salary, pension eligibility, and job satisfaction dominate judges' retirement decisions, political factors - here, the ideological distance of the judge from his or her likely successor, and the potential significance of that anticipated ideological shift - also play an important role, particularly in the lower courts.

Keywords: federal courts, judges, vacancies, survival analysis

Suggested Citation

Perry, Jessica and Zorn, Christopher, The Politics of Judicial Departures in the U.S. Federal Courts (April 15, 2008). Available at SSRN: or

Jessica Perry

Reed Smith LLP ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA
United States

Christopher Zorn (Contact Author)

Pennsylvania State University ( email )

University Park
State College, PA 16802
United States

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