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17 May 2006


Tonja Jacobi

I think these are some very useful definitions, though the literature uses them largely interchangeably. In our formal model of rules vs standars, Emerson Tiller and I differentiate between partisanship and ideology, using the former to characterize judging that conditions outcome preferences on litigant status (e.g. blacks vs whites, Republicans vs Democrats, or in one famous case, arguably Bush vs not-Bush) and ideology to refer to a more consistent ordering of preferences, favoring directions of outcomes without regard for litigant status. See http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=752284 . But equally, ideology vs atitudes captures that idea.
As Eileen defines it, surely ideology is MORE important to know, as predicting outcomes based on the more idiosyncratic 'attitudes' is far more difficult than predicting by ideology.

Eileen Braman

Tonja -- first sorry about your getting your name wrong in the post above -- what can I say I'm an idiot.

Second, and more importantly, what I meant to express is that your original post sets forth the problem I am struggling with beautifully. Ideology limited as a proxy for preferences for several reasons -- first so far its been treated as two dimensional when cases have more complex facts and multiple issues. This could be addressed by adding more dimensions as is currently the trend with congressional voting behavior - but may doing so may not solve the underlying problem.

Even in two dimensional space ideology is not a particularly accurate indicator of specific outcome preferences --even if our measures of ideology were perfect preferences are often based on other (sometimes idiosyncratic) factors like personal experience with particular policy or class of litigants. I think your original post raised all of these issues -- I just wanted to add my own two cents in hopes others will chime in.

Eileen Braman

Tonji -- nice post.

I'm gonna chime in here though because I've been somewhat concerned about recent postings concerning measurement of "judicial ideology" as an end in and of itself -- rather than what I think it is really meant to stand as -- a proxy for judicial preferences in particular cases --to help us explain and perhaps predict voting behaivor.

I've copied a footnote from the first page of my dissertation below where I grapple with defining some terms that have been used too loosely in the literature. I wonder if anyone would have a response to my characterization:

“Ideology,” “attitudes,” and “preferences” are all words that have been used to describe personal views judges have about cases they are called on to decide. The three terms are related and have, on occasion, been used interchangably in the literature on judicial decision-making. It is important to understand, however, that they refer to distinct concepts. I discuss them here, specifically, as they are used in the context of research on judicial behavior.

In the public law literature “ideology” refers to political ideology, a coherent set of beliefs individual judges have about the proper role government in society. Ideology is usually operationalized in dichotomous terms; both judicial actors and case outcomes are categorized as liberal or conservative. Very generally, liberal judges favor more government regulation of the economy and less state interference in the lives of everyday citizens in civil liberties matters. Conservative judges have the opposite views. Because, ideology involves a very general orientation toward the role of government, it covers a wide range of issues judges may encounter in their decision-making.

Attitudes are more specific than ideology. They describe positive or negative feelings judges have toward a particular target (McGuire 1985). Attitudes may be influenced by ideology (for instance, conservatives like tax cuts) but the relationship is not perfect. Judges can have particular attitudes that are inconsistent with their ideology. Moreover, attitudes can be shaped by factors other than ideology such as personal experience with a particular issue or class of litigant.

Preferences are outcomes judges favor. Like attitudes they are more specific then ideology; the term preference implies judges are choosing from a set of alternatives in a particular choice domain (Velleman 1994). Individual judges may have preferences with regard to a given policy (such as when someone prefers tax cuts to tax hikes), or dispute (as when a judge prefers the plaintiff prevail instead of the defendant). An underlying assumption in judicial research is that judges prefer outcomes consistent with their attitudes and/or ideology. Ideology is often used to approximate judges’ preferences in cases they are called on to decide. Sometimes researchers have more specific indicators of judges’ attitudinal preferences with regard to cases involving particular issues.

Am I missing something?? If not I'm not sure approximating ideology in and of itself is as important as getting better proxies for preferences in particular cases. I'd love to hear what others have to say about this!

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