Does Law Matter? Theory and Evidence from Single Subject Adjudication

51 Pages Posted: 16 Jul 2009 Last revised: 3 Aug 2015

See all articles by Michael D. Gilbert

Michael D. Gilbert

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: February 22, 2012


Empirical studies have examined the effects of law and politics on judicial decision-making, but many legal scholars are dissatisfied with how these studies account for law. This paper provides a novel survey technique for measuring law. I demonstrate this technique by examining judicial decision-making in cases involving the single subject rule. The rule limits ballot propositions to one “subject,” a standard that vests judges with some discretion. Measures of law developed with the surveys strongly predict judges’ votes in single subject cases. Moving from the proposition in the sample with the lowest subject count to the one with the highest is associated with a 78 percentage point increase in the likelihood of a judge finding a violation of the rule. Measures of ideology also predict judges’ votes, especially when propositions are politically salient and when the law is indeterminate.

Suggested Citation

Gilbert, Michael, Does Law Matter? Theory and Evidence from Single Subject Adjudication (February 22, 2012). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 40, p. 333, 2011, Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2010-26, Available at SSRN:

Michael Gilbert (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States

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