Justice is Less Blind, and Less Legalistic, than We Thought: Evidence from an Experiment with Real Judges

Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2016)

Harvard Law School John M. Olin Center Discussion Paper No. 884 (2016)

41 Pages Posted: 30 Sep 2016 Last revised: 17 Nov 2016

See all articles by Holger Spamann

Holger Spamann

Harvard Law School; ECGI

Lars Klöhn

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law

Date Written: September 1, 2016

Abstract

We experimentally investigate the determinants of judicial decisions in a setting resembling real-world judicial decision-making. U.S. federal judges (N=32) spend 55 minutes judging a real appeals case from an international tribunal, with minor modifications to accommodate the experimental treatments. The fictitious briefs focus on one easily understandable issue of law. Our 2×2 between-subject factorial design crosses a weak precedent and legally irrelevant defendant characteristics. In a survey, law professors predicted that the precedent would have a stronger effect than the defendant characteristics. In actuality, the precedent has no detectable effect on the judges’ decisions, whereas the two defendants’ affirmance rates differ by 45% (p<.01). Judges’ written reasons, on the other hand, do not mention defendant characteristics at all, focusing instead on the precedent and other legalistic and policy considerations.

Keywords: Precedent, judicial decision-making, judicial behavior, judicial bias, judicial psychology, determinants of judicial decisions, international criminal law, experiments in law

JEL Classification: K14, K40

Suggested Citation

Spamann, Holger and Klöhn, Lars, Justice is Less Blind, and Less Legalistic, than We Thought: Evidence from an Experiment with Real Judges (September 1, 2016). Journal of Legal Studies, Vol. 45, No. 2 (2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2844896

Holger Spamann (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

ECGI ( email )

c/o ECARES ULB CP 114
B-1050 Brussels
Belgium

Lars Klöhn

Humboldt University of Berlin - Faculty of Law ( email )

Unter den Linden 6
Berlin, D-10099
Germany

HOME PAGE: http://www.rewi.hu-berlin.de/en/lf/ls/kln

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