Noting that "study after study confirms a strong correlation between judges' political preferences and their behavior in civil rights/liberties-type cases, but researchers have only rarely identified an association between politics and decisions in economics cases," a recently circulated paper by Nancy Staudt (Northwestern), Lee Epstein (Northwestern), and Peter Wiedenbeck (Wash U) asks the interesting question: "Why do judges appear to stand above politics in the areas of the law that are rife with conflict and controversy in the other two branches of government?" From the abstract:
"Lawmaking in the context of taxation, bankruptcy, securities, antitrust, corporate law, to name just a few examples, is highly political in both the legislative and executive branches, as many empirical scholars have documented. For this reason, we seriously question the claim that judges are unique in that they have no political or ideological preferences when it comes to business and finance. Our conjecture is that the null findings in the literature are due to the technical difficulties associated with uncovering politics in large-N studies addressing economics decision-making rather than to a lack of judicial interest in these issues. But this is precisely the question we investigate here."
Although the authors characterize their findings, drawn from U.S. Supreme Court tax cases decided between 1940-2005, as "preliminary," they conclude that their findings support rejecting "the null hypothesis that politics plays no role in judicial decision making that involves business and finance."