Judges as Humans: Interdisciplinary Research and the Problems of Institutional Design

23 Pages Posted: 30 Nov 2006 Last revised: 9 Jul 2008


The article takes up the question of how best to put the increasing amount of interdisciplinary scholarship on courts and judges to work in service of institutional design and reform. The analysis focuses on the analysis from a recent book, Judges and Their Audiences: A Perspective on Judicial Behavior, by Lawrence Baum. The book provides an appropriate vehicle for this analysis because of what might be called its multi-interdisciplinarity. In it, Baum, a political scientist, draws on social psychology to critique political science models of judicial behavior.

I argue that analyses such as Baum's are important not only for their own sake, or for their contribution to our descriptive understanding of judicial behavior, but also because consideration of institutional reforms of the sort that have been and will continue to be proposed for the judiciary is best undertaken based on as complete an understanding of judicial behavior as possible, messy and provisional though it may be. The problem of partial information - the fact that a limited perspective on behavior might tempt us to adopt reforms that cause more problems than they solve - is real. The appropriate response, however, is not to wait for the long-off day when we achieve near-complete understanding of human behavior. Instead, methodological pluralism, coupled with what we might call "theoretical agnosticism," provides the best approach to questions of institutional design.

Keywords: judges, social psychology, judicial behavior, courts

JEL Classification: K4, K40, K41

Suggested Citation

Oldfather, Chad M., Judges as Humans: Interdisciplinary Research and the Problems of Institutional Design. Hofstra Law Review, Vol. 36, p. 125, 2007; Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 06-38. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=948246

Chad M. Oldfather (Contact Author)

Marquette University - Law School ( email )

Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
414.288.8031 (Phone)

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