Directing Retribution: On the Political Control of Lower Court Judges
Posted: 23 Jun 2008
Date Written: June 2007
The sentencing decisions of trial judges are constrained by statutory limits imposed by legislatures. At the same time, judges in many states face periodic review, often by the electorate. We develop a model in which the effects of these features of a judge's political landscape on judicial behavior interact. The model yields several intriguing results: First, if legislators care about the proportionality of punishment, judicial discretion increases with their punitiveness. Second, voters are limited by two factors in their ability to make inferences about judicial preferences based on observed sentences: the extent to which judges are willing to pander to retain office and the range of judicial discretion mandated by the legislature. Finally, legislators can sometimes manipulate judicial discretion to aid sufficiently like-minded voters in their efforts to replace ideologically dissimilar judges.
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