When presented with opportunities to make law, how do judges respond? In this book, Professor Klein addresses this question by examining the decisions of circuit court judges in cases not clearly covered by existing precedents. Specifically, he considers whether the actions and characteristics of their colleagues influence the choices of circuit judges to adopt particular legal rules. In addition, he asks whether and why circuit judges attempt to decide legal issues as they think the Supreme Court would in their place.
Using evidence drawn from quantitative analyses of several hundred cases, as well as interviews with two dozen circuit court judges, Klein finds that judges give serious attention to the work of colleagues, whether on their own court or other circuits. The actions, prestige, and expertise of these other circuit court judges are important factors in their decision making. However, while Supreme Court precedents factor heavily in circuit judges' rulings, expectations as to how the Supreme Court might decide in the future appear to have little effect on their actions. These findings speak to ongoing debates about judges' motivations and behavior, suggesting that both legal and policy goals influence judges.
David E. Klein is an assistant professor of government and foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.