Learning in the Judicial Hierarchy


Deborah Beim

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Deborah Beim (2017). Learning in the Judicial Hierarchy, The Journal of Politics 79(2): 591-604. DOI: 10.1086/688442
I argue the Supreme Court learns to craft legal rules by relying on the Courts of Appeals as laboratories of law, observing their decisions and reviewing those that best inform legal development. I develop a model that shows how the Supreme Court leverages multiple Courts of Appeals decisions to identify which will be most informative to review, and what decision to make upon review. Because an unbiased judge only makes an extreme decision when there is an imbalance in the parties’ evidence, the Supreme Court is able to draw inferences from cases it chooses not to review. The results shed light on how hierarchy eases the inherent difficulty and uncertainty of crafting law and on how the Supreme Court learns to create doctrine.
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