What Motivates Judges?

By Lindquist, Stefanie A. | Judicature, July/August 2007 | Go to article overview

What Motivates Judges?


Lindquist, Stefanie A., Judicature


What motivates judges? Judges and Their Audiences: A Perspective on Judicial Behavior, by Lawrence Baum. Princeton University Press. 2006. 256 pages. $29.95

In Judges and Their Audiences, Ohio State University political science professor Lawrence Baum directs our attention to an influence on judicial behavior that has generally been ignored in the scholarly community. Although previously scholars have considered the impact of public opinion on judges' decision making, rarely have they evaluated the impact of more defined individuals and groups. Professor Baum focuses his attention on the more personal dimension of audience influence that arises when judges seek the approbation of others within their social or professional milieu. Like most people, judges care what people think about their actions and may even seek to please others in order to garner social support and acceptance. Baum directs his attention at this personal or human dimension rather than the more common instrumental consideration of audiences' preferences.

For example, it is perhaps unsurprising that elected judges would consider the preferences of select constituencies when they render their decisions with an eye toward reelection. Similarly, one might expect that justices seeking to generate majority support for their opinions would consider the preferences of the other justices. But in these examples, judges' sensitivity to certain audiences (the public, their colleagues) is instrumental in the sense that it serves as a means to an end. On the more personal level, however, judges' sensitivity to legal audiences may influence their efforts to create sound legal policy or produce well reasoned opinions. This form of influence has no strategic or instrumental element. For example, some justices may be particularly sensitive to law review commentary about their opinions and may strive to craft their opinions to impress a scholarly audience. The same could be said about influential reporters.

Professor Baum carefully reviews the existing literature for evidence diat supports his thesis. In so doing, he provides an extraordinarily diorough discussion of research on judicial behavior, drawing on sociology, psychology, economics, and law. Based on diis "meta-analysis,'' Baum concludes that the influence of policy preferences is probably not as dominant as currendy depicted by political scientists as it does not fully explain the range of behaviors observed on courts. The influence of certain audiences might provide at least one explanation for why policy preferences do not fully explain the variance in judges' voting behavior. While audience approval might serve to reinforce judges' policy preferences, audiences in the legal community might also provide "incentives forjudges themselves to take the law seriously" (p. 160). Thus anticipated reactions from legal audiences might enhance judges' interest in developing sound legal doctrine rather than in securing a certain policy outcome.

Empirical social scientists are likely to look for ways to test Baum's theory. As an initial step in that direction, Professor Baum presents systematic evidence regarding how the Washington D.C. elite-certainly a proximate audience in terms of Supreme Court opinions-may have affected the voting behavior of certain Supreme Court justices. In comparison to those justices who were elevated to the Supreme Court from the D.C. Circuit, justices who moved to D.C. to take a seat on the Court demonstrated a liberal shift in their voting behavior after the move. Justices who were previously located in D.C. did not demonstrate a similar trend, suggesting that justices new to D.C. may have been affected by the preferences of the "Georgetown elite." Of course, such tests may be fairly limited due to the more personalized-and thus more idiosyncratic-influences that Baum describes. But that these influences are difficult to test does not mean that they do not exist; Professor Baum makes a persuasive case that, for many judges, professional reputation and esteem is extremely important. …

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