A Theory of Judicial Retirement

Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-33

Bustos, A., & Jacobi, T. (2015). A theory of justices’ retirement. American Law and Economics Review, 17(2), 529-565.

44 Pages Posted: 13 Jun 2014 Last revised: 21 Feb 2020

Date Written: June 11, 2014


For over 50 years, narrative and empirical accounts of judicial retirement have selected variables on a range of unstated assumptions, with discordant results. This paper introduces a formal model in which the justices, the President and the Senate are rational agents who aim to shift the median ideology of the Court as close as possible to their own ideologies. The model shows that the probability of retirement depends on a set of personal, contextual and political variables. It provides a more rigorous theory for the effect of extant variables, reveals erroneous conclusions in the literature, and identifies variables that have not been previously appreciated, such as the ideologies of the non-retiring justices and whether the ideology of the retiring justice is moderate or extreme. This more complete explanation of strategic judicial retirements raises empirically testable predictions to differentiate among the disparate findings of the existing literature.

Keywords: Probability of Retirement, Supreme Court, Median Ideology, Judicial Ideology

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K40

Suggested Citation

Bustos, Álvaro E. and Jacobi, Tonja, A Theory of Judicial Retirement (June 11, 2014). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-33. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2449028 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2449028

Álvaro E. Bustos (Contact Author)

Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile ( email )

Vicuna Mackena 4860. Macul

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/20bustos13/

Tonja Jacobi

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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