Explaining legal inconsistency


Judges, scholars, and commentators decry inconsistent areas of judicially created policy. This could hurt courts’ policy making efficacy, so why do judges allow it to happen? I show judicially-created policy can become inconsistent when judges explain rules in more abstract terms than they decide cases. To do so, I expand standard case-space models of judicial decision making to account for relationships between specific facts and broader doctrinal dimensions. This model of judicial decision making as a process of multi-step reasoning reveals that preference aggregation in such a context can lead to inconsistent collegial rules. I also outline a class of preference configurations on collegial courts (i.e., multi-member courts) in which this problem cannot arise. These results have implications for several areas of inquiry in judicial politics such as models of principal-agent relationships in judicial hierarchies and empirical research utilizing case facts as predictor variables.

Journal of Theoretical Politics 34(1): 107-126
JBrandon Duck-Mayr
JBrandon Duck-Mayr
Assistant Professor of Government

I research American political institutions, with a particular focus on judicial decision making and the role of law in judicial politics.