Journal Article

The Law’s Delay: A Test of the Mechanisms of Judicial Peer Effects

Thomas J. Miles

in Journal of Legal Analysis

Published on behalf of The John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics and Business at Harvard Law School with the support of the Considine Family Foundation

Volume 4, issue 2, pages 301-327
Published in print December 2012 | ISSN: 2161-7201
Published online September 2012 | e-ISSN: 1946-5319 | DOI:

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The presence of “peer effects”—that an ideologically homogenous panel decides a case in a more characteristically partisan way than an ideologically diverse panel—is a standard finding in studies of appellate decision-making, but the mechanisms that generate peer effects are not well understood. This article examines a previously overlooked implication that the leading theories of peer effects hold for the speed of judicial decision-making. One set of theories asserts that peer effects result from preference-revealing interactions among judges, such as deliberation or negotiation. These interactions are potentially time-consuming. Other theories, such as whistleblowing and dissent aversion, claim that peer effects result from a judge’s response to existing knowledge of her colleagues’ preferences. These responses are potentially instantaneous. A simple prediction is that if bargaining or deliberation, rather than whistleblowing or dissent aversion, causes peer effects, ideologically mixed panels should be slower to render decisions than ideologically homogenous panels. The article tests this prediction against a sample of administrative law decisions that have previously been shown to exhibit strong peer effects. The article’s main estimates show that the ideological diversity of a panel does not correlate with the speed of decision-making. This finding suggests that preference-revealing interactions do not cause judicial peer effects. But, the results show that law, specifically deference standards, influence the speed of decision-making. A court is substantially quicker when validating rather than invalidating an agency decision, regardless of the panel’s affinity for the substance of the agency decision.

Journal Article.  10156 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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