The Puzzle of Judicial Behavior

Lawrence Baum
How do we explain judges' decisions?


From local trial courts to the United States Supreme Court, judges' decisions affect the fates of individual litigants and the fate of the nation as a whole. Scholars have long discussed and debated explanations of judicial behavior. This book examines the major issues in the debates over how best to understand judicial behavior and assesses what we actually know about how judges decide cases. It concludes that we are far from understanding why judges choose the positions they take in court.

Lawrence Baum considers three issues in examining judicial behavior. First, the author considers the balance between the judges' interest in the outcome of particular cases and their interest in other goals such as personal popularity and lighter workloads. Second, Baum considers the relative importance of good law and good policy as bases for judges' choices. Finally Baum looks at the extent to which judges act strategically, choosing their own positions after taking into account the positions that their fellow judges and other policy makers might adopt. Baum argues that the evidence on each of these issues is inconclusive and that there remains considerable room for debate about the sources of judges' decisions. Baum concludes that this lack of resolution is not the result of weaknesses in the scholarship but from the difficulty in explaining human behavior. He makes a plea for diversity in research.

This book will be of interest to political scientists and scholars in law and courts as well as attorneys who are interested in understanding judges as decision makers and who want to understand what we can learn from scholarly research about judicial behavior.

Lawrence Baum is Professor of Political Science, Ohio State University.

Praise / Awards

  • "Any reviewer would be remiss if he or she failed to mention the extraordinary breadth of theory and empirical research within Baum's grasp. The 49-page list of references is worth the price of entry for any graduate student interest in the courts and American institutions. It encompasses not just the political science literature, but moves to draw in much from psychology, economics, and legal studies. Baum's learned discussion of these literatures makes this book an invaluable resource for those graduate students."
    American Review of Politics
  • "This book should be read by any scholar interested in the state of knowledge on judicial behavior, especially with regard to Supreme Court decisionmaking."
    —David Lynch, Weber State University, Criminal Justice Review, Spring 1999
  • "The subject of judicial behavior is plainly an important one, and this book does much to advance our thinking about it."
  • ". . . displays an extraordinary breadth of knowledge. . . . No doubt it will be difficult to find a more thorough, broad-based, and objective book on judicial decision making than The Puzzle of Judicial Behavior."
    —Jeffrey A. Segal, Law and Politics Book Review

News, Reviews, Interviews

Review Law and Politics Book Review | 2/1/1998

Product Details

  • 232 pages.
  • 5 tables, 3 figures.
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  • 2009
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  • 978-0-472-02263-2

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