The most recent issue of Perspectives on Politics has reviews of Lawrence Baum's Judges and their Audiences: A Perspective on Judicial Behavior and Mark Graber's Dred Scott and the Problem of Constitutional Evil. Jeff Isaac, the book review editor, cleverly has each author review the other's book, and then gives each author the opportunity to write a short response to the other's review.
Baum and Graber are two smart guys, with two very different ways of "doing" empirical work on courts and the law, so reading each engaging with the other's arguments is a treat. Especially interesting are Graber's points about empirical (what he calls "behavioral") political scientists' willingness to tackle normative questions. He notes that "Judges...is organized around problems of political science, not problems in the political world... The reasons why we must better explain judicial behavior are taken for granted."
I have certainly noticed this tendency as well, particularly among those whose work has been strongly influenced by economics. (For example, similar concerns to Graber's came up at a recent conference I attended, which brought together (normative) political theorists with a number of committed public choice / law-n-economics proponents). Which begs a couple questions: Why do so many empirical folks shy away from asking and answering explicitly normative questions? And what -- if anything -- are we missing as a result?