Understanding judicial decision-making requires attention to the specific institutional settings in which judges operate. The choices available to judges are determined not only by the law and facts of the case but also by procedural context. The incentives and constraints shaping judges’ decision-making will vary depending on, for example, whether they have a life-appointment or are elected; whether they hear cases alone or with colleagues; and whether and under what circumstances their decisions might be altered, overturned, or undone by the actions of others. The basic insight that the institutional context matters has led to increasingly sophisticated studies of how strategic interactions among Supreme Court justices, among branches of government, and within a judicial hierarchy shape judicial decision-making. But studies of federal district judges—the nearly one thousand judges who compose 78% of the federal judiciary and superintend 79% of its cases—have not matched this sophistication. Instead, much of the existing empirical work on federal district courts has failed to take account of the institutional setting in which those judges operate.
Schlanger, Margo. "How Should We Study District Judge Decision-Making?" P. T. Kim, C. L. Boyd, and A. D. Martin, co-authors. Wash. U. J. L. & Pol'y 29 (2009): 83-112.