Rulemaking Versus Adjudication: A Psychological Perspective

22 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2005


Legal systems make law in one of two ways: by abstracting general principles from the decisions made in individual cases (the adjudicative process) or by declaring general principles through a centralized authority that are to be applied in individual cases (through the rulemaking process). Administrative agencies have long had the unfettered authority to choose between the two methods. Although each method could identify the same solution to the legal issues that come before them, in practice, the two systems commonly settle upon different resolutions. Each system presents the underlying legal issue from a different cognitive perspective, highlighting and hiding different aspects of a legal problem. These differences produce different resolutions to legal problems. The single-case perspective of adjudication seems, in many ways, cognitively inferior to the broad perspectives that legislatures can incorporate into their decision-making processes. The adjudicative approach, however, has advantages that are less obvious. Notably, the adjudicative process is more likely to facilitate the adoption of simple, elegant rules for decision-making. The assessment of which approach is superior is, therefore, indeterminate. Each has its strengths and weaknesses that make them more or less appropriate for different contexts.

Suggested Citation

Rachlinski, Jeffrey John, Rulemaking Versus Adjudication: A Psychological Perspective. Available at SSRN:

Jeffrey John Rachlinski (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

Myron Taylor Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-5878 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

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