Reconsidering Judicial Preferences

Posted: 15 May 2013

See all articles by Lee Epstein

Lee Epstein

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Jack Knight

Duke University School of Law

Date Written: May 2013


Among political scientists, not only is it uncontroversial to say that judges seek to etch their political values into law; it would be near heresy to suggest otherwise. And yet this article does just that because research conducted by scholars (mostly outside of political science) has demonstrated that the policy goal is not the only motivation; it may not even be dominant for many judges. The evidence is now so strong that it poses a serious challenge to the extremely (un)realist(ic) conception of judicial behavior that has dominated the study of law and legal institutions for generations. In addition to reviewing this evidence, we offer a more realistic conception of judicial motivations and suggest how different approaches to the study of courts can contribute to this new avenue of research.

Suggested Citation

Epstein, Lee and Knight, Jack, Reconsidering Judicial Preferences (May 2013). Annual Review of Political Science, Vol. 16, pp. 11-31, 2013, Available at SSRN: or

Lee Epstein (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States


Jack Knight

Duke University School of Law ( email )

210 Science Drive
Box 90362
Durham, NC 27708
United States

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