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A Theory of Rational Jurisprudence

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  • Scott Baker
  • Claudio Mezzetti

Abstract

We examine a dynamic model of up-or-down problem solving. A decision maker can either spend resources investigating a new problem before deciding what to do or decide on the basis of similarity with precedent problems. Over time, a decision-making framework, or jurisprudence, develops. We focus on the model's application to judge-made law. We show that judges summarily apply precedent in some cases. The law may converge to efficient or inefficient rules. With positive probability, identical cases are treated differently. As the court learns over time, inconsistencies become less likely. We discuss the existing empirical evidence and the model's testable implications.

Suggested Citation

  • Scott Baker & Claudio Mezzetti, 2012. "A Theory of Rational Jurisprudence," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 120(3), pages 513-551.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jpolec:doi:10.1086/666655
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    File URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1086/666655
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Bailey, Martin J. & Rubin, Paul H., 1994. "A positive theory of legal change," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 14(4), pages 467-477, December.
    2. Joshua Schwartzstein & Andrei Shleifer, 2013. "An Activity-Generating Theory of Regulation," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 56(1), pages 1-38.
    3. Dari-Mattiacci, Giuseppe & Deffains, Bruno & Lovat, Bruno, 2011. "The dynamics of the legal system," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(1-2), pages 95-107, June.
    4. Robert Cooter & Lewis Kornhauser & David Lane, 1979. "Liability Rules, Limited Information, and the Role of Precedent," Bell Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 10(1), pages 366-373, Spring.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Chen, Ying & Eraslan, Hulya, 2018. "Learning While Setting Precedents," Working Papers 18-001, Rice University, Department of Economics.
    2. Chen, Daniel L., 2016. "Priming Ideology: Why Presidential Elections Affect U.S. Judges," TSE Working Papers 16-681, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised Aug 2016.
    3. Elliott Ash, W. Bentley MacLeod, . "Intrinsic Motivation in Public Service: Theory and Evidence from State Supreme Courts," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58(4).
    4. Giorgio Rampa & Margherita Saraceno, 2014. "Beliefs and Precedent: The Dynamics of Access to Justice," DEM Working Papers Series 084, University of Pavia, Department of Economics and Management.
    5. Anthony Niblett, 2013. "Case-by-Case Adjudication and the Path of the Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 42(2), pages 303-330.
    6. Sean Farhang & Jonathan P. Kastellec & Gregory J. Wawro, 2015. "The Politics of Opinion Assignment and Authorship on the US Court of Appeals: Evidence from Sexual Harassment Cases," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 44(S1), pages 59-85.
    7. Niblett, Anthony, 2013. "Tracking inconsistent judicial behavior," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 34(C), pages 9-20.
    8. Adam B. Badawi & Scott Baker, 2015. "Appellate Lawmaking in a Judicial Hierarchy," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 58(1), pages 139-172.
    9. Luca Anderlini & Leonardo Felli & Alessandro Riboni, 2014. "Why Stare Decisis?," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 17(4), pages 726-738, October.
    10. Scott Baker & Gary Biglaiser, 2014. "A Model of Cause Lawyering," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 43(1), pages 37-63.
    11. Giovanni Maggi & Robert W. Staiger, 2017. "Learning by Ruling and Trade Disputes," NBER Working Papers 23774, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    12. Daniel L. Chen, 2015. "Can markets stimulate rights? On the alienability of legal claims," RAND Journal of Economics, RAND Corporation, vol. 46(1), pages 23-65, March.
    13. Ying Chen & Hulya Eraslan, 2018. "Learning While Setting Precedents," KoƧ University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum Working Papers 1810, Koc University-TUSIAD Economic Research Forum.
    14. Jacobi, Tonja & Kontorovich, Eugene, 2015. "Why judges always vote," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 43(C), pages 190-199.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • K10 - Law and Economics - - Basic Areas of Law - - - General (Constitutional Law)
    • K40 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - General

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