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Does Law Matter? Theory and Evidence from Single-Subject Adjudication


  • Michael D. Gilbert


Empirical studies have examined the effects of law and politics on judicial decision making, but many legal scholars are dissatisfied with how these studies account for law. This paper provides a novel survey technique for measuring law. I demonstrate this technique by examining judicial decision making in cases involving the single-subject rule. The rule limits ballot propositions to one "subject," a standard that vests judges with some discretion. Measures of law developed with the surveys strongly predict judges' votes in single-subject cases. Moving from the proposition in the sample with the lowest subject count to the one with the highest is associated with a 78-percentage-point increase in the likelihood of a judge finding a violation of the rule. Measures of ideology also predict judges' votes, especially when propositions are politically salient and when the law is indeterminate.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael D. Gilbert, 2011. "Does Law Matter? Theory and Evidence from Single-Subject Adjudication," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(2), pages 333-365.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:doi:10.1086/660839

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Joshua D. Angrist & Jörn-Steffen Pischke, 2009. "Mostly Harmless Econometrics: An Empiricist's Companion," Economics Books, Princeton University Press, edition 1, number 8769.
    2. Ashenfelter, Orley & Eisenberg, Theodore & Schwab, Stewart J, 1995. "Politics and the Judiciary: The Influence of Judicial Background on Case Outcomes," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 257-281, June.
    3. Ai, Chunrong & Norton, Edward C., 2003. "Interaction terms in logit and probit models," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 123-129, July.
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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Daniel L. & Frankenreiter, Jens & Yeh, Susan, 2016. "Judicial Compliance in District Courts," TSE Working Papers 16-715, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).

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