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Empirical Research on Judicial Reasoning: Statutory Interpretation in Federal Tax Cases

New Mexico Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 2001

46 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2002  

Daniel M. Schneider

Northern Illinois University - College of Law


In "Empirical Research on Judicial Reasoning: Statutory Interpretation in Federal Tax Cases," Professor Daniel Schneider uses empirical research to examine the interplay between methods of statutory construction used by judges in federal tax decisions and the judges' social backgrounds. While tax scholarship has analyzed how the Internal Revenue Code is interpreted, it has not done so empirically. This article uses statistics, especially logistic regressions, to engage in such an analysis, taking judges' backgrounds into account.

Professor Schneider's database consists of decisions from both the Tax Court and the district courts sitting in the Southern District of New York, the Northern District of Illinois, and the Central District of California that were rendered between 1979 and 1998. He has assembled data about both the decisions - the court where the decision was made, the year of the decision, the primary Code section at issue, and the rationale used to justify the decision (e.g., strict construction, reliance on legislative history) - and the social backgrounds of the judges who rendered the decisions - each judge's gender, race (for the district court judges) educational background, political affiliation, prior professional experience, and length of the judge's tenure when he rendered the decision.

Some of Professor Schneider's descriptive statistics include his observations about judges that:

- those who decided the Tax Court cases had gone to more elite colleges and less elite law schools than judges who decided the district court cases, and

- relative to the Tax Court judges, the district court judges had served on the bench less when deciding the case before them and also were more likely to have come from private practice.

His observations about the methods of interpretation used are that:

- judges strongly favored nonliteral approaches, especially practical reasoning, to strict construction of the Code,

- they used practical reasoning in a wide variety of substantive areas of tax law, and

- they frequently mixed different approaches to interpretation, pairing strict construction, for example, with nonliteral approaches.

Finally, Professor Schneider uses logistic regressions to predict what approaches judges in the sampled cases could be expected to use when justifying their decisions. Statistically significant correlations between factors in judges' social backgrounds and approaches existed for factors such as the judge's education, his professional background before being appointed to the bench, and the length of his tenure when rendering his decision.

Keywords: federal taxation, statutory interpretation, statistics, empirical research, logistic regression

JEL Classification: H20, H29

Suggested Citation

Schneider, Daniel M., Empirical Research on Judicial Reasoning: Statutory Interpretation in Federal Tax Cases. New Mexico Law Review, Vol. 31, No. 2, Spring 2001. Available at SSRN: or

Daniel M. Schneider (Contact Author)

Northern Illinois University - College of Law ( email )

Swen Parson Hall
DeKalb, IL 60115
United States
815-753-1560 (Phone)
815-753-9301 (Fax)

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