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Hierarchical constraints and the choices judges make: Judicial decision-making at the U.S. Courts of Appeals.
by:Maxwell H H Mak
The conventional wisdom is that judges at the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constrained decision-makers. Serving as the immediate subordinate to the U.S. Supreme Court, circuit court judges must adjudicate cases in a manner consistent with precedents and doctrines established by the justices. Thus, it is not surprising that previous research generally...
The conventional wisdom is that judges at the U.S. Courts of Appeals are constrained decision-makers. Serving as the immediate subordinate to the U.S. Supreme Court, circuit court judges must adjudicate cases in a manner consistent with precedents and doctrines established by the justices. Thus, it is not surprising that previous research generally concludes that circuit court judges comply. Although previous research has done much to enhance the understanding of lower court compliance with the Supreme Court, two often missing components are examinations of the conditions under which judges are indeed constrained and the manner in which such constraint should be evinced. I argue that compliance alone is insufficient to conclude that the Supreme Court, in setting doctrine and legal considerations, constrains the choices judges make. For hierarchical constraint to be present, lower court judges must adhere to the relevant legal considerations despite a preference for deciding a case in the opposite direction. Moreover, legal considerations must shift the overall behavior, but in doing so can also affect the role of ideology in the eventual vote choice. Previous examinations, empirically and sometimes theoretically, have ignored the possible interaction between legal doctrine and ideology. By accounting for hierarchical constraints and the mechanisms through which they affect judicial decision-making of abortion, free expression and religious free exercise cases at the U.S. Courts of Appeals, this dissertation seeks to clarify the role of ideology, legal considerations, and the impact on judicial behavior at the circuit courts.
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