Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts

77 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2014

See all articles by Elliott Ash

Elliott Ash

ETH Zürich

W. Bentley MacLeod

Columbia University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: November 2014

Abstract

This paper provides a theoretical and empirical analysis of the intrinsic preferences of state appellate court judges. We construct a panel data set using published decisions from state supreme court cases merged with institutional and biographical information on all (1,636) state supreme court judges for the 50 states of the United States from 1947 to 1994. We estimate the effects of changes in judge employment conditions on a number of measures of judicial performance. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that judges are intrinsically motivated to provide high-quality decisions, and that at the margin they prefer quality over quantity. When judges face less time pressure, they write more well-researched opinions that are cited more often by later judges. When judges are up for election then performance falls, suggesting that election politics take time away from judging work – rather than providing an incentive for good performance. These effects are strongest when judges have more discretion to select their case portfolio, consistent with psychological theories that posit a negative effect of contingency on motivation (e.g. Deci, 1971).

Suggested Citation

Ash, Elliott and MacLeod, William Bentley, Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts (November 2014). NBER Working Paper No. w20664. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2521422

Elliott Ash (Contact Author)

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William Bentley MacLeod

Columbia University - Department of Economics ( email )

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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

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IZA Institute of Labor Economics ( email )

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