Lee Epstein
Lee Epsteing Ethan A.H. Shepley Distinguished University Professor
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Published in 2004. In The Blackwell Companion to Law and Society, ed. Austin Sarat. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

Lee Epstein
Jack Knight


If there is one word that characterizes the study of courts and judges it is diversity— diversity in the kinds of questions scholars raise, the theories they invole, and the methodologies they use to assess the expectations their theories generate.

Given this mix, it would be, on the one hand, a near-daunting task to cover all the research developments in a single essay; that would necessitate a much larger volume, perhaps even two or three.  And it would require not just two scholars who work primarily as political scientists and legal academics but rather many, hailing from the disciplines of anthropology, economics, psychology, and sociology.  These social sciences, and various pockets in the humanities as well, have produced mounds of research on the subject of courts and judges—at least some of which has, for all the usual reasons, failed to join the piles already on our desks.

On the other hand, despite the multiplicity of specific research questions, theories, and methodologies, analysts of courts and judges have coalesced around a similar set of general substantive concerns.  We can group these under four headings: judicial selection and retention, accessing judicial power, limitations on judicial power, and judicial decision making.

In what follows, we devote space to each of these topics.  But, out of the belief that any attempt to cover all the questions specialists have raised about them and the results their inquiries have yielded would be superficial at best and misleading at worst, we explore one key debate within each.  What these explorations reveal is that, over the past decade or so, scholars have made great strides in their quest to understand the various phenomena associated with courts and judges but still have some distance to travel.  While the gaps in our understanding may be narrowing, they nonetheless remain wide.  Before turning to the four substantive topics, we take a brief detour.  In this section we consider the three building blocks of most research programs—questions, theory, and methodology—and offer some observations about their use in studies of judges and courts.

Click here for the chapter (.pdf).