William & Mary Law Review


Lee Epstein


Back in the 1940s the political scientist C. Herman Pritchett began tallying the votes and opinions of Supreme Court Justices. His goal was to use data to test the hypothesis that the Justices were not only following the “law,” but were also motivated by their own ideological preferences.

With the hindsight of nearly eighty years, we know that Pritchett’s seemingly small project helped to create a big field: Judicial Behavior, which I take to be the theoretical and empirical study of the choices judges make. Political scientists continue to play a central role, but they are now joined by economists, psychologists, historians, and legal academics. I briefly explore their contributions. I also consider other developments since Pritchett’s time, including the analysis of judicial behavior abroad, the massive improvements in our data, and the increasing number of topics under study. I conclude with some directions the field might take in the next few years. All in all, I am quite optimistic that the study of judicial behavior will continue to hold an important place in the social sciences, history, and, increasingly, I hope, law.


Presented as the 2015 George Wythe Lecture, "Why We Should Study & Teach Judicial Behavior," delivered at William & Mary Law School on November 6, 2015.

Publication Information

57 William & Mary Law Review 2017-2073 (2016)