DOI: 10.1515/ajle-2023-0142 ISSN: 2194-6086

What Do Judges Want? How to Model Judicial Preferences

Charles M. Cameron, Lewis A. Kornhauser
  • Law
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance (miscellaneous)


We discuss a central question in the study of courts: What do judges want? We suggest three different domains that might serve as the basic preferences of a judge: case dispositions and rules, caseloads and case mixes, and social consequences. We emphasize preferences over dispositions on the grounds of plausibility and tractability. We then identify desireable properties of dispositional utility functions and the relationship between dispositional utility and expected utility for rules. We examine the impact on expected rule utility from case distributions that are sensitive to the enforced rule. We illustrate how to combine dipositional utility with efforts costs and time constraints. We provide examples of case spaces, dispositional utility functions, and expected utility functions for enforced rules. This essay is an early draft of a chapter of a book-in-progress on the positive political theory of courts.

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