While judicial decisions continue to attract sustained interest from empiricists, far less is known about other aspects of judges' conduct, including their decisions to retire. In Leaving the Bench, 1970-2009: The Choices Federal Judges Make, What Influences Those Choices, and Their Consequences, Stephen Burbank (Penn.), S. Jay Plager (CA-FC), and Gregory Ablavsky (Penn.) bring some preliminary data to bear on this issue, including on factors that motivate judicial retirements. While the analyses are descriptive, they contribute to an important foundation for further study. An excerpted abstract follows.
"This article explores the decisions that, over four decades, lower federal court judges have made when considering leaving the bench, the influences on those decisions, and their potential consequences for the federal judiciary and society. A multi-method research strategy enabled the authors to describe more precisely than previous scholarship such matters of interest as the role that judges in senior status play in the contemporary federal judiciary, the rate at which federal judges are retiring from the bench (rather than assuming, or after assuming, senior status), and the reasons why some federal judges remain in regular active service instead of assuming senior status or retiring.
The study’s findings include many matters either not previously observed or not previously established. ... Responses to a questionnaire sent to all judges in senior status (with a return rate of 83%) permitted the authors to confirm that the two major influences on the decision to take senior status are the desire to help the judge's court by creating a vacancy and the desire to take advantage of federal tax (FICA) savings. Those responses also confirm that, contrary to much of the political science literature, strategic partisan behavior plays only a very small role in these decisions."